Football Saving Lives is a public health campaign focused on promoting the importance of HIV testing. By 2012 more than 100,000 people in the UK will have HIV – and a quarter will be unaware they have the infection. That means they cannot access today’s life-saving treatment, and may also be unknowingly passing on the infection.
In a major event for general HIV awareness, several of the biggest football clubs in the country are showing their support for the new charity. The launch of “Football Saving Lives” began on World AIDS Day, the 1st of December, and over the next month clubs around the country will show their support for its message.
West Bromwich Albion’s Ben Foster has recently become the goalkeeping patron of the charity. “It’s my goal to ensure that every goalkeeper in the Premier League signs up to Saving Lives,” Foster explains. “If we succeed in achieving that level of support across the country, we can really make a difference.” This cross-club support has already taken shape: the charity’s outfield patron, Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, saw his club take part in a launch event on December 3rd, two days after World AIDS Day.
Saturday, December 10th, will see West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic show their support for Saving Lives. Both teams will wear the charity’s t-shirts, providing the charity with a high profile opportunity to communicate not just to the teams’ assembled fans but to their international television audience.
Foster added: “This is a fantastic campaign and I’m proud to be a patron. It makes things so simple: get tested, if your negative, you can concentrate on staying healthy. If you are positive, getting diagnosed early could save your life. Our job is to get to a stage where HIV testing is just another routine blood test and where everyone feels ok about having a test.”
Petrov continued: “It seems like HIV is something we talk less about than we once did, and yet the numbers of new infections are still on the increase. The fact that one in four people who have the infection in the UK don’t even know is a worrying fact . We need to do something to address that. The numbers unaware are even higher in my country.
“Saving Lives is about breaking down barriers, educating people about HIV and the importance of testing. If I can help achieve that then that’s perfect.”
The launch of Football Saving Lives represents the first time Premier League football clubs have supported a UK-focused HIV campaign of this kind. Dr Steve Taylor, HIV Consultant at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital and Medical Director of Saving Lives, said: “Football clubs have a huge influence on young people’s behaviour and attitudes. By talking more about HIV and HIV testing hopefully we will slowly start to break down the stigma associated with this infection.
“This in itself could be lifesaving – if people listen to the messages of the campaign. Through education and testing, our aim is to get those people with the infection onto life-saving treatment. Getting them onto treatment also prevents the infection spreading.
“The more we can do to emphasize the benefits of taking an HIV test, the sooner we will get on top of the epidemic and save lives,” he added.