Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas has spoken to the Duke of Sussex about how his HIV diagnosis inspired him to live his life to the full and educate others about the virus.
Harry and the former Wales captain spoke about the virus as part of a powerful new film released by the Terrence Higgins Trust to mark national HIV Testing Week, which starts today.
In the video, filmed in the stands at the Twickenham Stoop – home of Premiership Rugby club Harlequins, Thomas told Harry that the moment he received his HIV diagnosis is what inspired him to educate others about the realities of the virus.
Harry shared a joke with former Wales rugby captain, Gareth Thomas (right) and Chris Robshaw of Harlequins (left) as he was presented with a Harlequins kit for son Archie on November 8
Both Prince Harry and his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, have dedicated their lives to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS. Harry was today gifted a shirt for baby Archie
He said 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’.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus.
He told the duke that his knowledge of HIV was stuck in the 1980s and he thought he had been given a death sentence, but he now wants to show there is life after an HIV diagnosis.
Thomas added: ‘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.
‘We need to re-educate people to know that where we are now with HIV it is not a death sentence, it’s not and I am living proof.’
Ahead of his meeting with the duke, charities Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust (NAT) announced Thomas as a commissioner on the first ever HIV Commission to end HIV transmissions by 2030.
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.
‘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 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.’
During their interview, the duke praised Thomas and said that what he was doing was ‘amazing’.
He added: ‘I believe in what you’re doing, it’s amazing.’
The Duke of Sussex hugged former rugby player Gareth Thomas as he greeted him at the Twickenham Stoop in London
In recent interviews, Gareth Thomas said he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis
Harry and his brother the Duke of Cambridge have praised the Welshman for revealing he was HIV positive
The duke and Thomas also discussed how the rugby community can help reduce the stigma by calling on rugby players to be tested and know their status to help normalise HIV testing.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV charity, paid tribute to the two men’s impact in ‘challenging perceptions of HIV and tackling stigma’.
The charity said that following Thomas revealing his HIV status publicly in September it saw a surge in orders for its HIV testing kits, mirroring a five-fold increase when Harry tested live on Facebook in 2016.
Testing for HIV has never been easier and can be done in a range of different places, including sexual health clinics, GP surgeries and at home, it added.
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.
The charity said that was why testing for HIV was so important because 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 cannot be passed on, it added.
Ian Green, chief executive of the 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 duke and the sportsman met the club players at the Twickenham Stoop, home of Harlequins, ahead of National HIV Testing Week
Harry and Thomas decided to work together after the royal texted the Welshman asking to chat a few days after he revealed his HIV status in a Twitter video
Thomas said Harry has ‘done so much to normalise HIV testing and fight the stigma across the globe’
The pair laughed and chatted as they strolled through the rugby grounds
The ex-fullback, who captained both Wales and the British Lions, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with HIV
WHAT IS HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an incurable sexually-transmitted disease that attacks the immune system. If untreated, it completely destroys the immune system.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE IT?
HIV has killed about 35 million people since the 1980s. Approximately 37million people in the world currently have it.
WHAT IS IT?
HIV is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens the ability to fight infections and disease.
Without treatment, HIV can turn into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is a syndrome (or, a set of symptoms) not a virus.
In layman’s terms, AIDS has been referred to as ‘late-stage HIV’. A person has AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections. AIDS cannot be transmitted from one person to another; HIV can.
WHAT IS THE PROGNOSIS?
Those diagnosed with HIV need to be on medication for life to prevent it turning into AIDS, which is often fatal.
A decade ago, people who were HIV positive were given a shorter life expectancy because the medication, suppressing the immune system, made patients highly vulnerable to fatal infections.
Today, HIV drugs are much more sophisticated.
They allow for people who are HIV positive to live as long as anyone else in good health.
They can also suppress the viral load to such an extent that it is undetectable and untransmittable, meaning it’s possible to have intimate relationships without passing it on.
The former player has been named a member of the the HIV Commission, created by NAT (National AIDS Trust) and Terrence Higgins Trust.
Thomas said of his appointment: ‘This is something that I am unbelievably honoured about, becoming an HIV commissioner with a group of people who plan to end zero new transmissions of HIV in England in the next 10 years, and that’s the first country in the world to do that.
‘I have a little platform, I don’t know how big it is but I know I have a platform, and I understood why there are so many people living in fear, living in shame, because I lived in fear and I lived in shame.’
Three years ago Prince Harry took a HIV test live on Facebook – sparking a five-fold increase in orders for HIV tests from Terrence Higgins Trust.
And last year, he called for HIV testing to be seen as ‘completely normal’ in a specially recorded message.
The Duke of Sussex said people should not be ashamed or embarrassed about taking a test for the lethal virus.
Instead, he said being tested for HIV should be treated in the same way as people protect against ‘viruses like cold and flu’.
In the two-minute video message, the young royal wore a red ribbon in solidarity with all those living with HIV.
He said: ‘Taking an HIV test is something to be proud of – not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
‘As much as you protect yourself at this time of year from illnesses and viruses like cold and flu, you can also protect your health by taking an HIV test.’
Princess Diana famously helped reduce the stigma of AIDS sufferers in April 1987 when she shook hands with a gay man dying of the disease.
Back in the eighties, when the picture was taken at the London Middlesex Hospital, having AIDS was considered a death sentence’.
Prince Harry has long advocated for the importance of HIV testing both in the UK and around the world. When he tested for HIV live on Facebook two years ago, there was a five-fold increase in orders for HIV tests from Terrence Higgins Trust
The Terrence Higgins Trust, a voluntary sector provider of HIV and sexual health services, said the day after the Welshman’s announcement was the charity’s busiest since launching their HIV self-test kits.
National HIV Testing Week will run from 16 to 22 November.
It aims to increase awareness and acceptance of HIV testing by dispelling the stigma that surrounds the virus.
This helps to improve early diagnosis and treatment of HIV, thus reducing onward transmission.
How Diana’s handshake with Aids patient changed world’s view of the disease
In April 1987, Princess Diana shook hands with a gay man who was dying of AIDS.
The People’s Princess touched the unnamed man without wearing gloves, challenging the previously believed notion the disease could be passed via skin-to-skin contact.
She was quoted as saying: ‘HIV does not make people dangerous to know.
‘You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it’.
At the time, Princess Diana was opening the UK’s first unit that exclusively cared for HIV/AIDS patients at London Middlesex Hospital.
Princess Diana was famously the first member of the Royal Family to touch someone with AIDS.
It is unclear if this picture is the first time she made physical contact with an HIV-infected patient.
The People’s Princess would also regularly visit the Lighthouse, both with the media present and without.
According to Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust: ‘London Lighthouse offered residential and day care for men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS, and provided a refuge and respite to people marginalised and abandoned because of their diagnosis’.
Princess Diana was a patron of the National AIDS Trust at the time of her death in 1997.