Prince Harry and rugby star Gareth Thomas joined players and people living with HIV to talk about the importance of testing
Prince Harry and a sporting legend joined forces on Friday to help highlight the need for more understanding about HIV — and to beat the stigma surrounding testing.
Harry teamed up with rugby player Gareth Thomas, who recently revealed he was living with HIV. Thomas has received the support of both the prince and his brother Prince William for opening up about his status and educating the public about his diagnosis.
Thomas, 45, told PEOPLE: “[Harry] knows the stigma that’s out there, he knows the fear of people not wanting to be tested because they’re so afraid of what they don’t know, and he understands the lack of education out there. So to stand up and actually take a test himself is a real sign of bravery, and a real sign of somebody who doesn’t want to just communicate to certain people, he wants to communicate to everybody.”
“That stigma is real, it’s not just a word but a real thing,” he continued. “William and Harry want to be part of helping everybody because they realize it’s everybody’s human right regardless of your sexual orientation or your status you’re allowed to be able to continue living your life.”
Harry, who has taken on his late mother Princess Diana’s cause of educating the public about HIV, visited the rugby club Harlequins, in southwest London, to mark National HIV Testing Week, which starts on November 16.
During his visit on Friday, Harry met with players from Harlequins’ men’s and women’s teams, as well as inclusive rugby club Kings Cross Steelers, who will share how much of an impact Thomas has had since speaking out about his status.
The event was hosted by Terrence Higgins Trust, the largest voluntary sector provider of HIV and sexual health services in the U.K. It recently established an independent HIV Commission with National AIDS Trust to develop recommendations for an effective action plan to help reach the ambitious goal of ending new HIV transmissions in England by 2030.
Towards the end of the visit, Harry was given a gift for little baby Archie — a Harlequins rugby jersey.
The Commission is chaired by Dame Inga Beale and commissioners include Thomas and Mercy Shibemba, who is a young HIV advocate born with the virus.
Thomas said: “This is the next step for me. I could easily stop still and go home and have a lovely life with my husband. But I choose not to. I choose to continue to keep fighting the fight that I started but not on my own.”
Shibemba, who has met Harry before, said she used the opportunity on Friday to follow up with him on their previous conversation.
“Last time we met, we talked about youth involvement in activism and he was saying that it was important you are not always presenting problems, you’re actually saying here’s a solution,” she said. “And today, I said, ‘I’ve followed on with your advice of don’t just present a government with problems but we have also come up with a solution.’ He seemed really excited about that.”
The emotional video that Thomas released in September when he revealed his HIV status has had a galvanizing effect on encouraging more people to come forward, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust. Since then, the trust has seen a surge in orders for HIV self tests and visits to its website – mirroring the five-fold surge in HIV self-tests reported by Terrence Higgins Trust after Harry tested live on Facebook in 2016.
Thomas says he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received.
“It’s been a whirlwind but I’ve got along with it because I’ve had so much public support,” he says. “That’s been surprising as it’s something I wasn’t really expecting —but that’s been empowering. There are times when I’ve felt down but the overwhelming amount of support has meant that my life has been fulfilled from giving out this very private information than I thought it might have been.”
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In a statement released on Friday, Thomas said, “I spoke out about living with HIV not for me, but for all those people who are struggling and don’t have a platform. For them I want to do everything I can to challenge stigma and out dated views about HIV. That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining the HIV Commission because I want to be a part of a positive change and play a role in driving us towards our goal where no-one else contracts HIV.”