Former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas has spoken to The Duke of Sussex about what it felt like to receive his HIV diagnosis in a powerful new film released by Terrence Higgins Trust to mark National HIV Testing Week.
Filmed in the stands of Harlequins rugby club, Thomas explains to The Duke that the moment he received his positive diagnosis is what inspired him to live his life to the full and educate others about the realities of HIV. That includes the knowledge that by taking one pill a day he can’t pass on HIV to his husband Stephen.
Speaking in the film, His Royal Highness says that everyone should know their HIV status to ‘normalise testing’ and ‘make it easier for those that are fearful, that are scared to come forward’.
Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV charity, has paid tribute to the two men’s impact in ‘challenging perceptions of HIV and tackling stigma’. Following Thomas revealing his HIV status publicly in September, the charity saw a surge in orders for its HIV testing kits, mirroring a five-fold increase when The Duke of Sussex tested live on Facebook in 2016.
In their first-ever meeting, Thomas explains to The Duke that like many others his knowledge of HIV was stuck in the 1980s and he thought he had been given a death sentence. The Welshman hopes that by sharing his story during National HIV Testing Week he can show that there’s life after an HIV diagnosis and help others overcome their fear of getting tested.
‘We do so much around our health – going to the dentist, going to the doctor. But when it comes to sexual health testing there’s the stigma and fear around it,’ says Thomas to The Duke.
Testing for HIV has never been easier and can be done in a range of different places, including sexual health clinics, your GP and even at home. Free HIV testing kits can be ordered online via startswithme.org.uk.
New statistics from Public Health England estimate that around one in 14 people living with HIV in the UK remain undiagnosed while 43% of people diagnosed last year were diagnosed late, which is after damage to the immune system has already begun.
That’s why testing for HIV is so important as someone diagnosed early and accessing treatment – like Thomas – has the same life expectancy as anyone else. Access to effective HIV treatment also ensures that the virus can’t be passed on.
On the importance of National HIV Testing Week, Thomas said: ‘I have a new purpose now. I want to do whatever I can to remove the fear people have about testing for HIV and just do it! There is still so much stigma around HIV testing and I want to change that. We all go to the dentist for a check-up and testing for HIV should be seen in exactly the same way.
‘Because I wasn’t educated about HIV, I thought I had been given a death sentence when I was diagnosed and I don’t want anyone else to go through that. I want to prove there’s life after a positive diagnosis and show everyone the realities of HIV. I take one pill a day which keeps me healthy, means I have absolutely no fear of passing on HIV to my husband and means I’m fit enough to do an Ironman!’
Ian Green, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘We’re proud to bring together The Duke of Sussex and Gareth Thomas – two individuals who have done so much to challenge people’s perceptions of HIV and tackle stigma. That’s because when they speak out about the realities of HIV, people listen and act.
‘I hope The Duke and Gareth’s work to normalise HIV testing has a big impact during National HIV Testing Week and anyone who has previously been too scared to test sees that it’s always better to know. The vast majority of people who test get a negative result but for those who do test positive there’s a huge amount of support available to help in processing that diagnosis.’
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