Charlie Sheen’s HIV-Positive Status Energizes Know Your Status Campaigns

HIV-awareness organizations are using actor Charlie Sheen's announcement that he is HIV-positive as an opportunity to both engage with the public about the illness and to encourage them to get tested.

When actor Charlie Sheen revealed he is HIV-positive on NBC’s Today Show this week, it pushed discussions surrounding HIV and other sexually transmitted infections to the forefront. In addition, it gave organizations, like the American Sexual Health Association, a chance to share their messages—centering on safe sex, HIV prevention, and the importance of getting tested–with a broader, more attentive audience, ASHA Communications Director Fred Wyand told Associations Now.

Anytime a high-profile individual acknowledges he or she has HIV, it’s a great opportunity for patient organizations to encourage people to get tested and know their HIV status, American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) Communications and Marketing Director Amber McCracken told Associations Now.

Lack of awareness of one’s HIV status and inadequate treatment “leads to 50,000 new diagnoses and 18,000 HIV deaths yearly in this country,” Sheen’s physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, told Today.

“Charlie can save many more lives coming forward with this revelation than I could ever have aspired to as a doctor,” Huizenga said.

To that end, ASHA and AAHIVM are hopeful that having the illness top of mind following Sheen’s disclosure will lead some to either go get tested or inform themselves more about HIV and AIDS. “As a society, we have come a long way fighting the stigma of HIV,” McCracken said, adding that while a lack of understanding regarding how the virus is transmitted still exists, it’s not like it was in the ‘80s when people thought they could contract the virus if someone touched them.

Wyand agrees that misconceptions still remain. Among them is that people still believe HIV is a gay man’s disease or that if you have HIV, you also have AIDS. “While gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected,” HIV is “everyone’s disease,” he said. “Everyone is at risk.”

Both groups are also hopeful that they can use this time to remind the public about another misconception: that HIV is a death sentence. “We live in a wonderful age where it’s entirely possible to live for decades with HIV,” so long as an individual sticks to their treatment regimen, Wyand said.

While Sheen said he doesn’t want to be the “poster man” for HIV, he added that he won’t shy away from opportunities to speak out about it. “I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge,” Sheen said. “An opportunity to help others. A challenge to better myself.”

(Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Katie Rucke

By Katie Rucke

Katie Rucke is former Associate Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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