Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


That Charlie Sheen is HIV+ is not a huge shocker, given his well-known history of drug abuse and patronization of prostitutes. Fortunately he is taking his meds and his doctor says his viral load is undetectable (a term that seems exotic to the reporter, who oddly puts it in quotation marks).

The most interesting moral of this story is not to avoid doing the stuff that can get you HIV infected. I believe we already knew that. It's the decision he finally made to go public, after paying millions in blackmail to keep it a secret. (Assuming this is entirely true. Sheen is crazy so it might be a bit askew.)

Whether or not you think a person should be ashamed for shooting dope (if he did) or paying prostitutes, being HIV+ is not anything to be ashamed of. I have interviewed a lot of people with HIV, and here's what I can tell you. Initially, a lot of people are ashamed, maybe because they regret making a mistake, or because they have internalized the stigma of being gay and/or having a lot of casual sex, or being a drug addict. People often can't incorporate the fact of being HIV+ into their identity so they pretend to themselves it isn't true. They don't see a doctor or take meds because if they take meds, that means they have the thing, and they don't want to have it.

Maybe they do finally start on meds but they don't take them consistently because it reminds them of what they don't want to be reminded of.

But lots of people -- at least the ones who are still around to talk to me -- sooner or later get okay with it. They might see it as a kind of blessing, because the news finally got them to stop doing things they didn't really want to be doing. Many people even take pride in having made changes, and taking care of themselves, and being an example for others. They talk to the young people, they volunteer, they get on track with a career and they don't mind telling anybody. Those are the people who take their meds and do just fine.

I don't know why Sheen thought he needed to pay millions in blackmail to keep the secret. Now that he's come out, I guarantee you nothing bad will happen to him. In fact, he might just overcome his depression and his anger problems and his weird behavior and get back to work and once again fulfill his tremendous talent. And believe me, nobody will hold it against him. What I don't know is how to throw the magic dust on people and make that happen. If anybody has the formula, please let me know.


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Ioana G. FIU said...

The stigma of HIV is definitely still very real and very much a global health issue. The fact that another major celebrity came out with this status and is open about it opens up more conversation about the virus as well as educates more people about it. The media contributes to how this message is carried out to people who know very little. Coverage definitely contributes to the spread of knowledge and could ultimately decrease the stigma of the disease. As stated, feelings of shame are often accompanied by the diagnosis, however, once it is more accepted by the individual, proper medication management can be carried out to make the disease more manageable. Perhaps media coverage gives more light on this health issues and can encourage other HIV+ patients to seek out medical treatment regarding their status and be able to live with the virus.

Cervantes said...

I hope so Iona. BTW I know something about FIU, I was on a dissertation committee there and the university is well known for diversity and international outlook.