Villa stars back HIV testing public awareness campaign
Striker Darren Bent, club skipper Ron Vlaar, midfielders Gary Gardner, and Fabian Delph, and defenders Ciaran Clark and Eric Lichaj have all signed up to be advocates for Saving Lives, a national HIV charity which promotes routine testing.
They follow in the footsteps of revered former captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is the charity's founding patron.
Other Premiership footballers have pledged support, such as Birmingham City's Curtis Davies and Fulham's Damien Duff, whilst figures from other sports have also agreed to support the charity, including Team GB's 2012 medal winner Sally Walton, 1500m star Hannah England, and IBF super middleweight champion Carl Froch.
The sport stars appear in the 'Saving Lives Avengers' campaign, which features striking images of the athletes alongside the message that HIV testing saves lives.
The posters have already appeared on buses and billboards across Birmingham, and are now moving to key hospitals in London.
"One in four of those with HIV in the UK do not know they are infected," explains the charity's medical director, Dr Steve Taylor.
"That means they may be passing on the infection and cannot access today's life-saving treatment, which can give people a full and healthy life."
The campaign hopes to dispel the myths and stigma which still surround HIV.
Villa striker and Saving Lives Ambassador Darren Bent said: "You hear a lot of silly claims about taking a test damaging your changes of getting insurance or a mortgage, but it's not true. Saving Lives is raising awareness about HIV, how we can control it, and how people can live a long and happy life."
In Birmingham, the campaign was cited by 16% of 1800 sexual health clinic attendees as one of the reason for going for a test - and nearly half of them had no other exposure to sexual health messages.
The London campaign is launching at The Royal London Hospital in Tower Hamlets,an area with five times the national average of people living with HIV that is 6 in every 1000 people are infected.
The campaign aims to reduce the number of people who are undiagnosed.
"If you don't get tested, then you can become really sick," said Villa capatain Ron Vlaar.
"But if you do take the test, and you do have HIV, you can get treatment and live a long, healthy life.
"At the end of the day It's better to know."
This is a message of hope quite different to the campaigns of the 1980s, which for many still define HIV.
The campaign aims to refresh HIV's public image. London 2012 medal-winner Sally Walton added: "It's so easy to take the test - at your GP, at a clinic, or at a hospital. The treatment exists now to live a long, healthy life, so there's no excuse for not taking an HIV test."
To read more about HIV and the Saving Lives charity, please visit their website at http://www.savinglivesuk.com/
Videos of Darren Bent and other stars can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/user/HIVsavinglives?feature=mhee
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