Gareth Thomas says he 'thought he was going to die'
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In an exclusive chat with Express.co.uk, he spoke about his campaign Tackle HIV and a new report titled The Sex of our Nations, which revealed some shocking data regarding the differing attitudes towards HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. The survey, which asked over 6,000 adults across the six nations revealed that only 53 percent and 45 percent said they would consider having a test for either a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV respectively, with 28 percent going further to say that they would not consider a HIV test as they do not think they are at risk of catching the virus.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention explains that HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a condition that attacks the body’s immune system.
Although there is currently no effective cure for the condition, if left untreated the condition can develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) – where an individual’s immune system has become badly damaged.
Speaking about his own diagnosis, Gareth explained that his preconceived thought about the condition led him to believe that it was the “gay plague”.
With no one actively talking about the condition, and TV adverts promoting the message that it was a “death-sentence diagnosis,” it was no surprise that Gareth shared the same reaction.
He said: “It was a reaction of ’I’m going to die’ and a case of ‘when is that going to be’.
“I was from a place where nobody spoke about it. We never spoke about it in school and all I have ever learnt about it was from adverts that I had seen growing up about 20 to 30 years ago.
“Little did I know that that wasn’t the reality. But we are living in a society where science and medicine has moved on, yet public knowledge is still very, very much lagging behind.”
When asked what the motivation behind his decision to speak publicly about his HIV was, Gareth said it was to ultimately “take control,” not only of his disease, but his sexuality in general.
He continued to say: “When you get to a place where you are able to say, I’m HIV positive and I’m gay, then all of a sudden it kind of becomes okay.
“It becomes your narrative rather than other people’s narrative and you realise that you can influence so many other people who are in the same position.
“It becomes important that people know why at one point I felt like I was going to die.”
HIV is often caught when transmitted from one person to another, but with early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with the condition will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses, and can go on to live a normal lifespan.
Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex and Gareth Thomas in conversation from Tackle HIV on Vimeo.
The NHS explains that individuals who are HIV positive may experience a short flu-like illness two to six weeks after infection, but once this disappears, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although the virus continues to damage your immune system.
As the Tacke HIV survey suggests, many people still hold the belief that only gay individuals are at risk of getting HIV, but the infection can be found in any of the body fluids of an infected person.
Gareth commented on this issue, saying that it is one of the main reasons why stigmas still exist. He added: “We assume that only the people who are gay or bisexual are affected by HIV, so why would a heterosexual woman in her mid-50s get tested?
“It is one of the big big misunderstandings and the big myths, and it can be very dangerous because if you feel like HIV is not going to affect you then you won’t go and get tested. Which means that there is a risk of transmitting HIV to somebody else.”
For Gareth the message is a simple one: “HIV is something that could possibly affect anybody regardless of your race, gender, age. If you are sexually active then it could affect you.”
Through working with Tackle HIV, Gareth’s campaign has been supported by the likes of Prince Harry and Elton John. Prince Harry recently joined Gareth for a chat to help spread the message that his mother Diana, Princess of Wales first began.
When asked if he genuinely believes that HIV will be completely eradicated at some point, Gareth remained positive, replying: “Yeah, we definitely can. But what I feel it is going to take is for the conversation to continue to make it a subject that people are no longer afraid of.”
In order to diagnose HIV, individuals need to get tested, which can take place at a GP surgery, sexual health clinic or with an “at-home” pack. Today, Gareth takes one pill every day at 6am, which stops the virus from replicating in his body. He is also not contagious or a threat to his husband.
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.
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