Gareth Thomas urged the next generation to look after their sexual health as much as their physical health after speaking to students on campus at the University of Nottingham.
Fresh from a Rugby World Cup punditry stint, the former Wales and Lions captain stopped off in the East Midlands city as part of his Tackle HIV campaign Myth Bus Tour.
The tour provided the chance for students to interact with Thomas, as he spoke on the importance of HIV testing and corrected myths and misconceptions through the campaign.
“We’ve come to address the issue of stigma around HIV, but also address it before it creates a stigma because this is the next generation,” Thomas said.
“It’s a younger generation. It’s also a generation that I feel sometimes think they’re invincible because they’re so young.
“HIV is such a difficult subject for people to approach because we don’t have the education around it.
“It’s about creating an environment for people to feel like they have the power to be able to have an educated conversation around a subject that, if it doesn’t touch their life, could touch a friend’s or a family member’s life.
“It’s about them having that knowledge to make themselves feel powerful enough to have an understanding of it.”
To mark the start of the Rugby World Cup, Thomas toured France with the Tackle HIV Myth Tour Bus which included stops in Paris and Toulouse to speak to rugby fans across the home of Les Bleus.
The University of Nottingham visit marked the first time Thomas has stopped off at a higher education institution as part of the campaign.
And with it, the 49-year-old signalled the need for the next generation to have more open conversations about HIV and dispel misinformation around its transmission.
He added: “People need to learn how far science and medicine has advanced but also the importance of testing.
“Also, that there’s no stigma around testing and to understand that looking after your sexual health is as important as looking after your physical health and your physical wellbeing.”
The 2022 Tackle HIV survey revealed 45% of people would consider taking a HIV test.
But thanks to initiatives such as the campaign, progress and education means England is on track to achieve a target of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030.
Thomas said: “It’s important to understand what people feel they already know and if what they already know isn’t a fact, to correct the facts.
“People assume that it’s only a virus that affects gay and bisexual men and outside of that characteristic, everybody else is immune to it.
“But the reality is very different. I want people to know that in 2020 in England there were more new cases of HIV among heterosexual people than there were among gay and bisexual men and that’s a fact.
“It’s important that people know these facts and that people realise and understand that this virus can and does affect them.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv