After days of media speculation which in some cases, used really poor language and at times felt like a witch hunt, actor Charlie Sheen has revealed his HIV positive status.
I’m keen not to get caught up in the media furore surrounding this announcement, because while immense pressure must have been put on Mr Sheen to reveal his status, the subject of his health is a personal one.
His decision to make his announcement is a brave one and to quote, ‘I have a responsibility to – help a lot of people’. To generate conversation and get people talking must only be a positive thing, but shouldn’t we also think in detail about how we, as a society, consider HIV.
The subject of HIV should not, in the 21st century, ignite such shock and fear.
Mr Sheen said in the interview with The Today Programme that ‘HIV’ were three letters that were hard to absorb. But his story shows us that HIV is indeed three letters – not a sentence. With the right treatment, HIV can become undetectable in an individual’s blood, as is the case for Mr Sheen and thousands of others on anti-retroviral medication. This makes it extremely unlikely for the virus to be passed on and life expectancy will remain unchanged as no damage is done to the person’s immune system.
People living with HIV can live completely normal, happy healthy lives with the right treatment – but you can’t get treated if you don’t know you have it. The key is to get tested. HIV testing is the only way a person can be sure of their HIV status- and in the UK Public Health England estimates 26,000 people unaware they are HIV positive.
Next Week is National HIV Testing Week in the UK and I hope, if anything, this news story will encourage more people to have an HIV test, especially if they know they have put themselves at risk.
I also hope the past week can teach us that, as a society, it is stigma, lack of information and myth that is holding so many people back from being tested for HIV. We need people – both HIV positive and HIV negative – to feel empowered to address the issues, speak about HIV and to educate others. To drive the conversation about HIV forward and to eliminate the fear surrounding HIV both from a health perspective and from a social perspective, we have replace the myths with facts.
I hope that Mr Sheen’s announcement will inspire more positive conversations where people ask questions about HIV, seek the right answers and approach the subject with an open mind.
Brigette Bard is Founder of Last Taboo and CEO of BioSure UK, which manufactures Europe’s only CE marked HIV self test.
Pic credit: Joella Marano