While many feel the AIDS epidemic is largely behind us, and that cases are largely limited to the older generation, in fact, in the USA, half of all new cases of HIV affected those under 30. In response, the UFC will be launching a new public service campaign, called “Protect Yourself At All Times” designed to increase HIV awareness, notably in the under 30 demographic.
Co spokesperson, UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin explained why it is a natural fit for the company.
"I had 15 fights in the UFC Octagon during my career, and before each and every one of them, I had an HIV test," said Griffin. "I'm encouraging everybody to show themselves and their partners the same respect I showed my opponents by getting tested and protecting themselves at all times."
Co-spokesperson women's bantamweight contender Liz Carmouche too offered supportive words.
"There's a feeling of invincibility that comes with being young, with being fit and in the prime of your life," said Carmouche. "But I learned when I was in the Marines just like I've learned as a UFC fighter that no one is invincible, and that you have to project yourself at all times."
UFC chief operating officer Ike Lawrence Epstein explains that given the lack of awareness around HIV among those under 30, the UFC's unique reach in the 18-35 demographic, and that all fighters must take an HIV test, it only made sense for the UFC to team up with the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada to promote the “Protect Yourself At All Times” campaign.
"As someone who grew up in the 1980s and saw the virus beaten back with education in the 1990s, I was stunned to learn from our friends at The Center that HIV is still having such a dramatic impact on young people," said Epstein. "No other sport reaches the under-35 demographic like the UFC does and the UFC felt a duty to try and do something about this situation.
"It gives me great pride to announce the UFC will be partnering with The Center, LBGTQ+ and other organizations for a project we are calling 'Protect Yourself At All Times.' This will be a local, national and, ultimately, international campaign designed to educate the UFC’s vast core audience of under 35s about the realities of HIV."
Bob Elkins, CEO of The Center, has been HIV positive for 27 years.
"HIV stopped being a ‘gay issue' long ago but, unfortunately, it has now very much become a ‘young issue'. The jarring fact is that young gay men are becoming infected at a much higher rate. The lack of both awareness and accessible information for teenagers and young adults is truly frightening. It's like the 1990s never happened in terms of education and public awareness. In the UFC, we have the perfect partner to fight this ignorance, and we thank them for joining us in this battle."
"When I first found I was HIV positive, my friends and family thought it was a death sentence. But I wouldn't accept that and started anti-retroviral treatment which I've continued ever since. Today, my viral load is virtually undetectable, thanks to my doctors and the meds. But through education and medical advances we began to fight back against the disease. Living with HIV is manageable, but we cannot allow advancements to take away our focus on preventing new infections through public awareness and education."
The UFC's campaign has two key messages:
•Get tested - know your status; and,
•Protect yourself with safe sex practices.
The on-going Protect Yourself At All Times campaign will be rolled out during the lead-up to World AIDS Day on December 1 and will include:
•The UFC will fully support The Center'sLGBTQ+programme, which offers free HIV tests to the wider Las Vegas community;
•UFC athletes and personalities visiting centers nationwide who offer free HIV tests and educational initiatives;
•The UFC will be creating public service announcements which will be distributed across its powerful media platforms; and,
•The UFC will also be donating promotional inventory to the campaign, beginning with a full-page ad in next month'sUFC 360magazine, and ask its partners to donate similar space to raise issue awareness.