FEATURED | Rugby star Gareth Thomas vows to end stigma with new Tackle HIV initiative

It has been more than a year since 45 year old, former professional Welsh Rugby player Gareth Thomas announced that he was HIV positive. 

When he first made the public announcement he compared it to when he came out as gay ten years ago. Thomas said announcing he was HIV positive was “much more shameful” than he when he revealed his sexuality. Despite battling with his own internalised stigma of the disease at first when he thought he was going to die, Thomas already had that determination in him to reduce stigma of HIV and prove that he and anyone else with the disease could live a full, regular and active life. The very next day he took part in the Iron Man festival in Tenby to show people he still had the strength and the ability to do the things he wanted. 

Thomas has now launched a new initiative in association with pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare called Tackle HIV. The initiative will aim to educate people who have misconceptions of the diseaseand hopefully promote a more understanding attitude towards it. The ethos is not just aimed at people who are living with HIV but also those that aren’t.

“We still live in a society and a world where stigma holds back people being able to be honest about living with HIV,” Thomas said. 

Tackle HIV aims to break the stigma surrounding the disease. 

Like many misconceptions and negative attitudes towards subjects not often talked about, the stigma surrounding HIV stems from a fear of it.

Although HIV and AIDS originated many years ago the pandemic started in 1981 and spread across the world. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) many misconceptions of HIV stem from the images of it that first appeared from the early 1980’s. These images hold outdated beliefs which could then grow into stigma due to a lack of awareness and information. This could then develop judgemental attitudes and prejudice towards those living with HIV.

A recent survey conducted by Tackle HIV showed that less than one in five people know that with effective treatment, people who have HIV cannot pass it on to their sexual partner. Findings also showed that more than 60% of people would finish their relationship if their partner discovered they were HIV positive and more than a third who played contact sports said they would not play against an opponent who had HIV. 

Although HIV has a lot of stigma surrounding it, it can be effectively treated in a safe and non-invasive way and the treatment can ensure the person living with it cannot transmit it on to anyone else. They can lead a normal, happy and healthy life. 

For more information locally you can call Sexual Health Services for Herefordshire on 01432483693 or 08007720478. You can also visit the centre at 15 St Owen Street. The opening hours are 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday and 9am-1pm on Fridays. It is not just a clinic but also a support group, offering free, confidential counselling and advice for anyone.