Prince Harry has teamed up with a rugby star to break the stigma surrounding HIV.
The royal and Gareth Thomas, who recently revealed he is living with HIV, sat down for a candid chat in the stands of the Premiership rugby club Harlequins released to mark National HIV Testing Week, which starts on Saturday.
“I was fearful of being tested positive, but I was fearful because I didn’t understand what being tested positive means,” the athlete tells Harry in their first-ever meeting.
Thomas said that he soon learned that after he was tested positive, he could take steps to “get my life back on track” by taking medication that ensure he wouldn’t pass on the disease.
“That means now I live an amazing life with a husband who is HIV negative — and I know for a fact that I’m no risk to him,” the former Wales rugby captain said.
Prince Harry adds everyone should know their HIV status to “normalize testing” and “make it easier for those that are fearful, that are scared to come forward.”
Following Thomas revealing his HIV status publicly in September, the Terrence Higgins Trust saw a surge in orders for its HIV testing kits, mirroring a five-fold increase when The Duke of Sussex tested live on Facebook in 2016 alongside singer Rihanna.
Thomas explained to Harry that he was previously unaware of the advancements that had been made in the treatment of HIV — and he hopes that sharing his story will make others overcome their fear of being tested.
“We do so much around our health – going to the dentist, going to the doctor. But when it comes to sexual health testing there’s the stigma and fear around it,” said Thomas.
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.”
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.”