Gareth Thomas wants more ‘uncomfortable’ conversations around HIV to help educate people and destigmatise the virus.
Welsh rugby legend Thomas, 48, publicly revealed he had the virus in 2019 and is now the face of Tackle HIV, which aims to combat misconceptions around HIV.
The former British and Irish Lion is part of the charity’s Myth Bus Tour, which is travelling around the UK and aims to challenge people’s understanding of the virus and educate people about it.
Thomas believes it’s vital to take the conversation around HIV to new places where it may not be as normalised.
“It is very easy to measure your success as a campaign by sitting in front of a room of people who understand what you’re trying to do and get a round of applause, because they’re already on board,” said Thomas, speaking during The Myth Bus Tour which launched at the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 2 and is visiting Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and London to offer educational information on HIV as well as encouraging and offering testing advice, information and test kits to the public.
“What we decided as far as the bus goes is that it’s really important to have on the ground initiatives, so taking the bus to places where potentially people would feel like they don’t need to hear what we have to tell them. They feel they’re not of the characteristics that would be affected by HIV.
“It’s great to get the bus going and I’m excited to take it to places where you wouldn’t expect to see or have that conversation.
“In two weeks’ time we’re going to Harlequins when they play London Irish, we’re going to park in the car park of the ground, just to make what are probably uncomfortable conversations and uncomfortable places around this subject, and try make them a little bit more normal and a little bit more comfortable.”
The Myth Bus Tour launched at the Cardiff Half Marathon at the beginning of October, where 50 people were representing the charity while running.
And even there Thomas noted that people who visited the bus around the marathon were surprised by what they learnt about the virus, highlighting just how important education around the illness is.
Thomas added: “We had people walking past the bus, looking at the bus, reading certain facts and learning information.
“People were surprised when they found out that a third of the people with HIV in the UK are women, that in 2020 in England there were more new HIV cases with heterosexual people than homosexual – that was the first time in a decade.
“Globally 54% of the people living with HIV are female, a few facts like that meant people were realising the importance of the message and getting this message to everyone.
“Upstairs on the bus we’ve got a safe space where people can go and get tested so they know their status, where people can be tested without the stigma of being tested because people are afraid of confronting that stigma.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv