How do you destigmatize a disease when the actual people who are affected by it would prefer to pay millions in blackmail rather than own it?
Charlie Sheen announced this very thing on NBC’s Today Show: He is HIV-positive. He said he had paid off people to keep his status quiet.
It is almost 25 years since Magic Johnson stood up and announced he had HIV, and he did not consider this a death sentence. As someone who was working with this population I thought that maybe this very public person and beloved athlete would help destigmatize HIV and AIDS. But here we are hearing about millions of dollars being paid to keep the public from knowing.
If actors and athletes fear the stigma of contracting HIV then what chance does the general population have? After hearing the results of a positive HIV test, sometimes a person begins living in the shadow of life.
Suddenly a wall of shame goes up, and the person with the diagnosis is held hostage by a code of silence, and by the stigma.
The Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation offers HIV testing at different events and in our office. You can get tested at the Pima County Health Department or your doctors’ office. It is all confidential. We can get you referred to the right place so you can get medications and myriad other services.
We can give you your HIV status, but we can do nothing to help you with the stigma that still exists if you test positive.
Is it connected to ways one contracts HIV? There are still about 50,000 new infections reported each year. Most are from men having sex with men, some are new cases transmitted via unprotected heterosexual sex and some are by intravenous drug use.
Why should it matter how the virus was acquired?
Once you get the disease, all that matters is getting it under control and avoiding passing it on.
We must talk about this disease openly. These things happen in any family. Let’s have frank discussions with our kids — early and in an honest manner — about keeping them safe.
Many people live with HIV for many years and remain relatively healthy with regular medication. But make no mistake this disease is still a menace — with a stigma.