American actor Charlie Sheen, star of hit US TV series ‘Two and a Half Men‘, recently spoke to the media about his diagnosis of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and how he has endeavoured to keep his diagnosis out of the news. Sheen claims to have paid out over $10million (around £6.5m) to avoid the information about his health being exposed since his diagnosis four years ago, evidence of the stigma that, for some, remains attached to HIV.
Sheen’s decision to go public about his diagnosis has resulted in new and open discussion about the infection and his honesty will hopefully inspire those at risk to undergo testing. For those with a positive diagnosis, Sheen hopes that his openness will help to dispel stigma relating to HIV infection, so others with the diagnosis feel they too can be open about it.
On Radio 2 last week, BBC’s Jeremy Vine discussed Sheen’s HIV positive status and suggested in a programme introduction that HIV infection was as a result of what Vine called ‘bad behaviour’ by Sheen, a potentially damaging comment that further fires misconceptions about HIV. Vine’s suggestion goes far from helping to dispel myths or stigma surrounding HIV and should not put those off who would benefit from testing, treatment or talking to others about it. Vine was wrong to make assumptions about lifestyle or behaviour being the cause of HIV infection as it can be transmitted in a number of ways and can even be present in a person from birth. Also, as with many other illnesses such as lupus or diabetes, those diagnosed with HIV can continue to live full lives by managing their condition successfully with ongoing medication.
This week’s National HIV Testing Week (21-28 November 2015) provides an opportunity for people to talk about HIV and will hopefully inspire others to get tested. For more information about HIV and HIV testing with results in as little as 20 minutes, please click here.