Welsh Rugby star Gareth Thomas and ViiV Healthcare launch Tackle HIV campaign to address public misunderstanding and stigma associated with HIV

Campaign supported by Sir Elton John, David Furnish and Terrence Higgins Trust

Gareth Thomas and ViiV Healthcare have today announced the launch of the Tackle HIV campaign, 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 4000 adults in the UK, demonstrate that misunderstanding and stigma continue to exist despite advances in science and medicine. 61% of people surveyed said if they found out a potential partner was HIV positive they would or might end the relationship, the main reason given being worried about contracting HIV themselves (81%).1 Also, 17% 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.1

The Tackle HIV campaign will work to change negative perceptions and make HIV better understood and accepted by the general public through media, social media, and on-the-ground initiatives.

Tackle HIV also intends to draw upon 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.1 The most common reason given was being worried about contracting HIV themselves, but some also said they did not think people living with HIV should play contact sports, suggesting significant misunderstanding around transmission risks.1 Stigma, and self-stigma, where people living with HIV are judged and viewed negatively by others and themselves, can have devastating consequences on their mental wellbeing, quality of life and physical health.2 

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 have heard first hand stories of how deeply this stigma and self-stigma affect people living with HIV and I am determined to change this. That’s why I have started the Tackle HIV campaign with ViiV Healthcare. I am living with HIV and I am living a full and normal life. I am 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 am 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, 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.”

UNAIDS has set a goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.3 Science has enabled incredible advances in treating HIV but despite this people living with HIV or at risk of HIV still face stigma and discrimination which undermines prevention, testing and treatment efforts.4 Without addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination, the world will not achieve this goal and the Tackle HIV campaign will promote better understanding to reduce stigma and motivate everyone to play their part in reaching this target.3

"We are hugely proud of our role in supporting this campaign. While a record number of people living with HIV are now on treatment and are living longer, healthier lives - stigma persists with huge impact on people living with and at risk of HIV. ViiV Healthcare is committed to being here until HIV isn't and ending stigma is key to that goal. Tackle HIV is an important new partnership that illustrates this commitment."

Deborah Waterhouse
Chief Executive Officer

Note to Editors

Available for interview

  • Gareth Thomas
  • Ian Green, CEO, Terrence Higgins Trust
  • Laura Waters, Consultant GU/HIV Medicine, HIV & hepatitis lead CNWL, Mortimer Market Centre, Chair of the British HIV Association
  • Deborah Waterhouse, CEO, ViiV Healthcare

About HIV
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. ‘Immunodeficiency’ refers to the weakening of the immune system by the virus. If left untreated, infection with HIV progresses through a series of stages leading to late-stage HIV or AIDS.5 However HIV is now a manageable chronic disease.6 HIV medication works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood so much so that it does not show up in standard blood tests. This means the levels of HIV are so low that the virus cannot be passed on. This is called having an undetectable viral load or being undetectable.7 More information about undetectable equals untransmittable, U=U, is available here. HIV is passed on through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucus and breast milk, if the person with HIV has a detectable viral load. It is not passed on by spitting, sneezing, coughing, or general social contact.8

About ViiV Healthcare
ViiV Healthcare is a global specialist HIV company established in November 2009 by GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) dedicated to delivering advances in treatment and care for people living with HIV and for people who are at risk of becoming infected with HIV. Shionogi joined in October 2012. The company’s aim is to take a deeper and broader interest in HIV/AIDS than any company has done before and take a new approach to deliver effective and innovative medicines for HIV treatment and prevention, as well as support communities affected by HIV. For more information visit https://viivhealthcare.com/en-gb/.

About Terrence Higgins Trust
The Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading sexual health and HIV charity. Its mission is

  • To end the transmission of HIV in the UK
  • To empower and support people living with HIV to lead healthy lives
  • To amplify the voices of those affected by HIV across public and political arenas to eradicate stigma and discrimination
  • To enable people to enjoy good sexual health

The Terrence Higgins Trust provides testing services for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, campaigns on issues related to HIV and sexual health, runs community projects to support people living with HIV and works with the government on testing and prevention programmes.
For more information visit https://www.tht.org.uk/

Contact details:
For more information please contact:

Laura Stansfield
Advocate Marketing Communications Group
laura@advocatemc.com
07919 484512

David Parsons
BEAT Media
dparsons@beatmediagroup.co.uk
07968 438112

References:
  1. Data on file. Research conducted by Yolo Communications March 2020
  2. Centers for Disease Control. Facts about HIV Stigma. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-stigma/index.html. Last accessed April 2020
  3. UNAIDS. Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination. 2018. https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/global-partnership-hiv-stigma-discrimination_en.pdf. Last accessed March 2020
  4. AVERT. HIV Stigma and discrimination. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/stigma-discrimination. Last accessed March 2020
  5. Terrence Higgins Trust. About HIV. https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/about-hiv. Last accessed March 2020
  6. World Health Organisation. HIV: from a devastating epidemic to a manageable chronic disease. https://www.who.int/publications/10-year-review/hiv/en/. Last accessed March 2020
  7. Terrence Higgins Trust. Viral load and being undetectable. https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/about-hiv/viral-load-and-being-undetectable. Last accessed March 2020
  8. Terrence Higgins Trust. How HIV is transmitted. https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/about-hiv/how-hiv-transmitted. Last accessed March 2020