Recently, actor Charlie Sheen came out to the world as HIV positive. For four years, Sheen kept his diagnosis a secret. Stressful as this may seem being a high-profile celebrity, some people added to that stress by demanding money from him, or else they would leak his secret to the press. Now, the world knows Charlie Sheen’s HIV status, what does this mean as we commemorate World AIDS Day, a day for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV?
World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988 – the same year that Republican Governor Carroll Campbell signed into law the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA), which requires that young people be
instructed on reproductive health and STD/HIV prevention.
We need HIV to become a common talking point in our communities. Stigma can result from misinformation or inadequate information. A knowledgeable community is better equipped to handle the HIV epidemic and provide support to those living with HIV.
Living with HIV means living with stigma. Many HIV+ people do not want to disclose their status due to expected backlash. Many do not have adequate mental health or substance abuse support, sexual health information to prevent the spread of HIV, or housing or job anti-discrimination assurance. In general, those living with HIV can face a mountain of resistance that decreases their likelihood of seeking and/or finding help.
Of course, condoms are still the "go to" prevention measure for HIV. But condoms are not the only tool in the modern HIV prevention toolbox.
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It is used up to 72 hours after someone has been exposed to HIV to prevent infection.
PrEP is pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP involves daily antiretroviral adherence, and it is generally given to high risk HIV- people to prevent infection (like the sexual partner of an HIV+ person).
TasP (treatment as prevention) requires a person to take daily antiretroviral drugs by someone who is HIV+. TasP lowers someone’s viral load – the amount of HIV in a person’s system. The idea is that we can lower the amount of HIV in someone’s bodily fluid enough that it is “undetectable,” highly reducing the chances of transferring the infection to someone else.
I encourage you to research HIV on your own to dispel myths you may have been told and find ways to get involved to end the epidemic in your community.
I hate that we don’t have a cure and have to keep talking about HIV; but I’m certain that if we’re ever going to get a grip on this epidemic and end it, we’re going to have keep talking about HIV. And we’re going to have to get rid of the stigma and realize people in these situations are just humans like the rest of us – full of flaws, but deserving of human kindness and care. It is a shame that anyone would be blackmailed or “outed” about their status, but at least these situations bring HIV back into the conversation and show the need for better sex education and knowledge for people of all ages.
Michael Bivens (Fort Mill, SC) has decades of experience advocating for HIV awareness, education, and prevention in South Carolina and was recently honored as a POZ 100 long-term survivor with HIV.