A national HIV awareness charity, Saving Lives, has signed up a series of international sporting stars to stress the importance of HIV testing as part of an innovative marketing campaign set to launch this month to coincide with the very first National HIV Testing Week (Nov 23rd – Dec 1st, World AIDS Day).
Saving Lives has attracted sporting ambassadors including Team GB 1500m runner Hannah England, Aston Villa striker Darren Bent, and Team GB ladies’ football lynchpin Karen Carney. Other stars fronting the campaign include Birmingham City star Curtis Davies, former Team GB American football captain Paul Summers, Villa midfielder Gary Gardner, and national team water polo centreback Vicki Hawkins.
Extremely high-resolution images of these high profile athletes are available to any media outlet interested in reproducing them. The advocates are depicted in arresting action shots and striking poses, endorsing the simple message that ‘HIV testing saves lives’.
“Stigma still surrounds HIV, and our campaign is about breaking down those barriers,” said Dr Steve Taylor, the charity’s Medical Director and lead HIV consultant at Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital. “One in four of those with HIV in the UK do not know they are infected, and the fear and ignorance which dissuades people from taking the test is killing people.”
Hannah England, Olympian and World championship 1500m silver medallist, is the founding patron of Sport Saving Lives and said the campaign’s message is crucially important: “HIV is now a treatable condition, but stigma can still dissuade many from taking the simple blood test which can diagnose the infection. If as sportspeople we can encourage particularly young people to think more carefully about their health, that’s great.”
In 2012, over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. Of these, a quarter do not know they are carrying the virus – and around 25% of those who are ignorant of their status do not match any of the traditional ‘at risk’ groups often used by doctors to recommend testing.
“We need everybody – male, female, straight, gay, black or white, patient or doctor – to know that HIV is still around and we need to re-educate people about it,” said Dr Taylor. “Ongoing stigma, ignorance and denial mean that people are literally dying because they are not diagnosed early enough. Recommending and taking an HIV test is important and really can save lives.”
The campaign will be launched in Birmingham during the very first National HIV Testing Week, to be co-ordinated by the Department of Health-funded HIV Prevention Network and the Terrence Higgins Trust between November 23rd and December 1st.