By Jonny Bray
Gareth Thomas was no stranger to receiving support from some of the world's leading rugby players during his iconic 16-year career.
But this week, the Welsh rugby legend turned his attention to thanking staff at ViiV Healthcare for supporting his fight against stigma around HIV as the Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour made its latest stop at GSK House.
The Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour has been visiting cities across the UK to offer educational information on HIV while also giving testing advice to the public.
ViiV Healthcare has funded and supported the former Wales captain throughout the Tackle HIV campaign, but this was his first opportunity to meet staff from the pharmaceutical company in person.
And Thomas took the opportunity to speak passionately about how the team at ViiV Healthcare and GSK was raising awareness and tackling the stigma surrounding the virus.
He said: "The support that ViiV Healthcare has given Tackle HIV has allowed it to evolve into what it is now.
"It has allowed us to reach millions and millions of people.
"When I think about when this campaign started, we had a goal of what we wanted to do and how many people we wanted to reach.
"We have exceeded that, and that has come about because of a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
"I am lucky to do a lot of the stuff in front of the camera and the interviews, but so much of the work around Tackle HIV takes place at GSK House.
"The people at ViiV Healthcare have been so supportive to make sure that this campaign is a success, not just in the UK but globally as well.
"ViiV Healthcare has given Tackle HIV a platform in some of the most important venues and speaking events.
"That is all down to hard work behind the camera."
With as many as 400,000 people at risk of dying from the stigma around HIV in the next 20 years, Thomas embarked on the Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour to raise awareness and encourage people to check their HIV status.
And Vaughan Batty, GSK's Communications and Government Affairs IP in Charitable Investments, was delighted to welcome one of his role models to GSK House.
He said: "I think Tackle HIV is really important.
“Obviously GSK is really big on their support for the campaign, and they have an entire department dedicated to it with ViiV Healthcare.
"It is obviously a massive attraction to have Gareth here, he is such a role model in Wales and in the UK as a whole.
"He is such a role model in so many different ways, the stuff he had to go through.
"I watched a documentary about him recently, and what he had to go through was terrible.
"It is great to have an ambassador here willing to put the work in to give this issue as public a platform as possible."
Noel Watson-Doig, a lawyer at GSK, believes public understanding around HIV is lagging behind recent scientific advances, adding: "I think that there is still a lot of stigma around HIV.
"Societal attitudes have been very slow to catch up with the medical advances.
"I think that while the science and the work that ViiV Healthcare has done has come on leaps and bounds, cultural and societal attitudes have been very slow to catch up.
"As a result, people with HIV face a huge amount of stigma that goes unreported and unseen.
"I think things like the Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour are very important projects if we're going to tackle the existing stigma that people with HIV still face."
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv