OPINION: Former rugby star Gareth Thomas' coming out as HIV+ offers hope for millions living with the virus

Sunday, 15 September 2019 08:31 GMT

Rugby League - Huddersfield Giants v Crusaders engage Super League - The Shay Stadium - 3/7/11 Gareth Thomas of Crusaders Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Paul Harding

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Gareth Thomas's decision to come out as HIV+ in the face of threats from blackmailers reveals the stigma still faced by millions living with the virus

Ash Kotak is a playwright and film-maker and leads the #AIDSMemoryUK Campaign to establish a national tribute to HIV and AIDS in Britain

On Saturday, former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas made a statement via Twitter which he began by saying:

“I want to share my secret with you. Why? Because it’s mine to tell you. Not the evils that make my life hell, threatening to tell you before I do”

It is appalling that Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009 and retired in 2011, has been forced to reveal his HIV status. This is a private matter for him, but it seems he was being blackmailed; the details of which have yet to fully emerge.

This is how HIV stigma works. His Twitter post states it makes him incredibly vulnerable.

This is terribly sad but unfortunately true.

He is on sustained medication, which means that the virus in his blood is undetectable.

U=U is the campaign running around the world. It means undetectable is untransmittable: the combination of anti-retroviral drugs works so effectively that HIV+ people on medication cannot pass on the virus.

In 2019, we all need to do better worldwide to stand up and stop the prejudice against people living a full and healthy life with HIV.

Meanwhile more than 42% of 35 million people around the world living with HIV still cannot access lifesaving medications today.

AIDS is not over for the poor, the marginalised and dehumanised. AIDS particularly affects people of colour, and woman are most prevalent to new HIV infections.

HIV/AIDS continues to be a pressing concern.

But the combination of safe sex and condom use, PrEP, a daily pill that prevents the transmission of HIV, PEP, which is taken after exposure to the virus, and now U=U means we could potentially see the beginning of the end of HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Thomas coming out will help in the fight against stigma and prejudice and give strength to many people living with HIV.

It will also remind us how much more is still to be done as we pass the halfway point of the pandemic that has already taken the lives of 35 million people.

Collectively we can feel and hear the pain in Thomas’s words and in his expression as he speaks during his Twitter video.

I hope we learn from the cowardly act of the few who sought to exploit his HIV status and learn to empathise with the challenges of those living with the virus in 2019 nearly 40 years after it was first identified.

We can all do better.

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