The Ultimate Fighting Championship has linked up with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada (known as The Center) in a bid to raise awareness of the realities of HIV.

In the 1990s, there were major breakthroughs in both the treatment of and education about the HIV pandemic. Because of anti-viral drugs, HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was; and because of the tremendous mainstream media focus on the disease in the 1990s there was an educated population who practiced safe sex. The result was infection rates fell significantly.

UFC Protect Yourself posterBut the UFC realised that a younger generation is ill-informed about the dangers and realities of the disease. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated the ignorance of young Americans on the realities of HIV and AIDS is ‘shocking’, ‘astonishing’ and ‘just unacceptable’. Last year, half of the 50,000 Americans infected with the disease were under the age of 30.

The UFC and The Center are now picking a fight with that ignorance by launching an awareness campaign called Protect Yourself At All Times.

UFC COO Ike Lawrence Epstein said: ‘As someone who grew up in the 1980s and saw the disease beaten back with education in the 1990s, I was stunned to learn that HIV is still having such a dramatic impact on young people. No other sport reaches the under 35 demographic like the UFC does and we felt a duty to try and do something.’

Bob Elkins, CEO of The Center, added: ‘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 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.”

Elkins, who is HIV positive after contracting the virus 27 years ago, added: ‘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 treatment which I’ve continued ever since.

‘Living with HIV is manageable, but we cannot allow advancements to take away our focus on preventing new infections through public awareness and education.’