SUNDERLAND AFC players are urging people to tackle the issue of HIV.
Midfielder Craig Gardner and striker Steven Fletcher are supporting a nationwide campaign to encourage more people to get tested for the virus to coincide with National HIV Testing Week, which starts today.
The Black Cats stars feature in posters, videos and a new educational booklet for the national HIV awareness charity Saving Lives.
Gardner, 27, said education was the key to tackling the potentially deadly virus.
He said: “Before I got involved with the Saving Lives charity, I had no idea a person could be infected for over 10 years without knowing it.
“That’s staggering. Just think of all the other people they could have passed the infection on to in that time.
“For me it’s all about education, and giving young people the information they need to look after themselves.
“That’s why Saving Lives is so important – it educates people about HIV.”
Figures show one in five people living with HIV in the UK do not know they are infected, which equates to 20,000 people that doctors can’t give lifesaving treatment to and who may also unknowingly be passing on the infection to their partners.
Gardner added: “The HIV test is just a simple blood test. You can ask for it at your GP clinic, at hospital or in any sexual health clinic.
“It doesn’t hurt and, whatever the result, you’ll know what to do next – get on medicine or have safer sex in future.”
Steven Fletcher added: “You don’t have to be a certain type of person to catch HIV, which is why it’s safest to take the test.”
Dr Steve Taylor, HIV expert and medical director of Saving Lives, said more knowledge about HIV was ending the taboo about the virus that leads to the life-threatening disease Aids.
He said: “The treatment for HIV has improved over the last 10 years, which means that getting tested isn’t anything to be afraid of.
“It’s the not knowing that is killing people. Taking an HIV test is the only way to know if you’ve got HIV. It’s as simple as that.”
HIV cases on the rise in the North East
CASES of HIV rose from 129 to 152 in the North East last year, figures show.
There are now almost 1,500 people receiving treatment for the virus in the region, and as many as 350 more cases may be undiagnosed.
The statistics were published yesterday in a new report by Public Health England (PHE) ahead of National HIV Testing Week, which starts today.
Dr Kirsty Foster, consultant for health protection for PHE in the North East, said: “We have seen an increase in new cases in men who have sex with men, whereas the number of cases acquired through heterosexual transmission has been stable for the past four to five years.
“We are still a relatively low prevalence region, but some parts of the North East are approaching the Department of Health’s threshold, where universal testing would be recommended.”
She added: “HIV is a serious infection, and if left untreated can be life-threatening. But advances in treatment now mean the sooner HIV is diagnosed and treated, the lower the risk of passing it on.
“The sooner you get tested and, if needed, begin treatment, the better your long-term prospects.”
Early diagnosis, and treatment, can mean a near-normal lifespan for someone with HIV.