Charlie Sheen’s disclosure: HIV stigma is still with us

There’s no hiding that HIV disclosure is still a hard thing, both for the Person Living With HIV and for their family. This is why when someone decides to declare their HIV status publicly, they ought to be commended.

As a person who took this difficult step years back, not because of the pat on the back, but because of dealing with self stigma, I have been keenly following the discourse about Charlie Sheen’s disclosure.

Disclosure frees one from unnecessary burdens borne due to living in the ‘HIV closet’.  The closet comes with different for everyone. For Charlie, it came with the burden of  having to pay millions to keep people from exposing his status. Other people might just want to have someone listen to them, and reassure them that it is not a life sentence. Better yet, like in my case, it was a freedom that meant I could take my medications in peace without people raising an eyebrow every time I popped the pills.

Ever since Charlie’s great revelation last week, I have read and listened to some not so pleasant comments regarding HIV. It has even been labelled the Charlie Sheen disease. First, HIV is just a condition, it does Not make someone suddenly different. He is still the same person he was even before you knew his status. There are very many people living with the virus and are ignorant of it. In 2014, there were roughly 2 million new HIV infections. Not all of these know their status.

I read an annoying tweet some two weeks before the disclosure, that a solution to global hunger had been found, so African children can live long enough to die of AIDS. Charlie’s disclosure proves that AIDS is not an African disease, rather anyone can be infected. It removes the stereotypes that have been linked to Africa, which Chimamanda terms as dangerous.

That aside, Charlie Sheen has made some not so wise choices in the past. You may hate him for that, but not about his HIV status.

Some facts about HIV

1. HIV is not transmitted through mosquito bites. It is a virus that needs the human body to survive. Once a mosquito bites someone, even if they had HIV, it dies immediately.
2. HIV is different from AIDS. HIV is just a condition that makes your body susceptible to infections when your immunity is low. AIDS is a syndrome- A mixture of opportunistic infections arising from a weakened immune system.
3. ARVs, the drugs used by People Living With HIV, are not only life prolonging. They prevent spread of the virus. That’s why there are so many children who are born HIV free, yet their mothers are HIV positive.
Once a person is on ARV treatment, chances of them transmitting the virus to other people. Ever asked yourself why there are so many discordant couples? This is not to encourage unprotected sex among discordant couples.

Well, we still need people to accept themselves and be comfortable to come out of their closet at will. Let’s not make it difficult for them. Those who find a joke out of Charlie’s status, maybe you should have a HIV test  in the process.  My two cents.

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