Two leading British athlete are helping to launch HIV awareness campaign Sport Saving Lives as sporting ambassadors, to help spread the word about the importance of HIV testing in the fight against HIV.
Julian Thomas and Somto Eruchie, both 200m sprinters with the Birchfield Harriers team, are based at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham. Both are tipped for big things at the UK Championships, to be held at their home venue at the end of this month. Despite both having experienced difficulties as a result of illness and injury, the two men have their eyes on the London 2012 Olympics.
“Every athlete aims for the Olympics, of course,” says Thomas. “But 2012 is special for me because it’s going to take place in my home country, in front of a home crowd and my friends and family. The opportunity to show the nation what you can do, to make them proud, would be so precious. That’s why I’m going to try my hardest at Alexander Stadium!”
Eruchie agrees: “As every British athlete will tell you, the opportunity to compete at a home Olympics is really precious.”
The two athletes are proud to be going into the UK Championships supporting Saving Lives, an HIV awareness campaign which also began life in Birmingham. The Medical Director of the campaign, Dr Steve Taylor, is the lead HIV consultant at the city’s Heartlands Hospital. “One in four of those with HIV in the UK are unaware they are infected,” he explains. “This means they are not diagnosed, cannot access life-saving treatment, and may be going on to infect others unknowingly. An HIV test would rectify all that.”
By wearing the Saving Lives logo on their kit, and championing the campaign’s messages in media interviews, the athletes hope not only to win races at the end of the month but save lives. Julian Thomas works part-time with the Primecare GP out-of-hours service, assisting doctors on home visits within the Birmingham and Dudley region. “If we can get more people tested more regularly, we’ll save not just their lives but those of their partners,” he says. “That makes Saving Lives not just a good cause and a pressing public health issue, but a relatively easy one to explain: so anything I can do to help get this message out there I’m very happy to do.”
Somto Eruchie also has links with healthcare: he works as a medical scientist at Birmingham’s City Hospital. “My parents are Nigerian, and there’s a huge cultural issue in Africa around HIV – and even in one of the most ‘developed’ nations in the world, our own, you can see it at work. It’s a real tragedy, since if you catch HIV early – just as if you catch diabetes early – it can be treated and managed very successfully.”
As they look towards London 2012, then, both athletes also have an eye on improving the sexual health of a nation. “By breaking down the barriers that surround talking about HIV,” Dr Taylor insists, “we can communicate some very simple messages which have potentially very big effects. I can only thank Somto and Julian for lending their voices to this important campaign.”
Good luck to the two athletes at the UK Championships, then – and to Saving Lives!