Gay former Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas has joined forces with ViiV Healthcare to launch Tackle HIV, an initiative aimed at improving levels of public understanding of HIV and breaking the stigma around it.
Results of the recent Tackle HIV survey, conducted amongst 4,000 adults in the UK, demonstrated that HIV misunderstanding and stigma continue to exist, despite advances in science and medicine.
Sixty-one percent of people surveyed said that if they found out a potential partner was HIV-positive, they 'would or might' end the relationship. The main reason given for doing so was the possibility of contracting HIV themselves (81%).
Seventeen percent said they would be embarrassed if someone found out their partner had HIV.
Fewer than one in five people (19%) know that if a person living with HIV is taking effective treatment, they cannot pass it on to their sexual partner.
Using media, social media and on-the-ground initiatives, the Tackle HIV campaign will work to change negative perceptions and make HIV better understood and accepted by the general public.
Tackle HIV also intends to draw on the collective strength and following of rugby and other sports to bring about public awareness and understanding. More than one in three people surveyed (34%) said they would not play contact sport if they knew one of their opponents had HIV.
The most common reason given was being worried about contracting HIV themselves, but some also said they didn’t think people living with HIV should play contact sports, suggesting significant misunderstanding around transmission risks.
Stigma, and self-stigma, where people living with HIV are judged and viewed negatively by others and themselves, can have devastating consequences on mental wellbeing, quality of life and physical health.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Gareth Thomas said “Since finding out I have HIV, I have learnt so much about the virus and about how it affects people living with it.
"As our survey clearly demonstrates, HIV is still misunderstood, and because of that, stigma still exists. I’ve heard stories of how deeply this stigma and self-stigma affect people living with HIV, and I’m determined to change this. That’s why I’ve started the Tackle HIV campaign with ViiV Healthcare.
"I am living with HIV and I’m living a full and normal life. I’m taking HIV treatment, which is working. As such, I cannot pass HIV onto my partner. Science and medicine are so advanced, but public awareness and attitude lag behind. I’m choosing to Tackle HIV, for myself and everyone living with HIV.”
Speaking in support of Gareth and the Tackle HIV campaign, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, Founder and Chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, commented: “People living with HIV are not dangerous, they are not a threat to you, your friends, family, or to society. We create barriers with our own ignorance.
"Science is winning the battle against the virus, but public misunderstanding and stigma are a long way behind. We support Gareth and the Tackle HIV campaign to inspire us to learn and help make the changes we need to make in our society to end HIV/Aids.”
Terrence Higgins Trust is the Tackle HIV charity partner. Ian Green, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “In under a year, Gareth’s already had a huge impact on public perceptions of what it means to live with HIV - but these survey results show there’s still a long way to go to stamp out the stigma still surrounding the virus.
“Gareth knows from his own experiences the negative impact stigma has on the lives of far too many people living with HIV, and that’s why he’s so committed to doing something about it. We welcome the launch of Tackle HIV and its ambition to take the facts about HIV to as wide an audience as possible.
"We want to replace all of the outdated beliefs people are holding onto with the realities, including that someone living with HIV and on effective treatment - like Gareth - can’t pass it on to anyone else. Because we won’t end HIV transmissions in this country without also eradicating stigma and misinformation.”
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