The sight of people living with HIV completing the Cardiff Half Marathon has been described as a fitting start to a myth-busting initiative Gareth Thomas hopes will keep banishing the stigma around HIV.
A team of 50 runners will take on the iconic race on behalf of the Tackle HIV campaign, which will use the event to launch their Myth Bus Tour aimed at offering educational information on HIV as well as encouraging and offering testing advice, information and kits to the public.
Former Wales international Thomas ran the Royal Parks Half last year and sees endurance events as key to opening the eyes of the public when it comes to viewing people living with the condition.
“If you asked a lot of people to visualise someone living with HIV, a lot of people’s first image wouldn’t be someone who could run a half marathon with a smile on their face,” he said.
“Having a diverse group of people coming together to represent one thing is crucial. We have people living with HIV, affected by HIV in some way, or just supporters of the campaign wanting to come together and willing to put themselves out there.
“A lot of people still have the 1980s attitude of HIV being transmitted through sweat or spit. Being out there, showing people it isn’t a limitation to their capabilities, is important for us.
“What’s great about it is that we don’t know how many of the 50 are living with HIV.
“When you look at the 50 of them, you wouldn’t be able to see a difference. People living with HIV and without stand together, with no physical differences.” The fact is I take one pill a day and the virus then becomes undetectable in my system meaning I can’t pass it on through sexual contact. Science and medicine have come so far, but public attitudes lag behind”
Thomas, who previously took on the Cardiff Half as part of his ‘Alfie’s Angels’ BBC programme in 2016, is not running himself on this occasion but his husband Stephen will be taking on the challenge.
The Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour – which will also provide provision for HIV testing, as well as advice and guidance on the topic – will go on to visit Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, and London but Thomas is delighted the first stop on its journey comes in a city close to his heart.
“As a city and a nation, when we hold events, we want people to come from all over and have a special time,” he said. “The Cardiff Half is one of those special events.
“There are areas around the course which are peaceful, and you can reflect on why you’re doing it, then there are others where you can’t hear yourself think through the bells, cheers, and support.
“It’s a huge event which is really well supported and the fact we are able to have 50 people proudly running in a Tackle HIV t-shirt to stand up for what they want to represent shows how far we have come.”
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