AIDS Saskatoon hopes Charlie Sheen’s HIV diagnosis will give hope to people living with the virus and help fight discrimination.
In an interview on NBC’s Today show, the Hollywood actor revealed he was diagnosed with HIV four years ago.
AIDS Saskatoon support services coordinator Jason Mercredi said Sheen’s public disclosure may help show others living with illness that they can live a normal life.
“It’s a good way to promote the dialogue, and it will show people who have HIV that if you’re on the medication that your viral level can become undetectable,” he said.
Mercredi also believes the news will get the general public talking and reduce the stigma around HIV.
“I’m sure many people will be Googling HIV today as a result of this disclosure, and hopefully their education levels will go up so that they’ll realize you can’t get it from sharing a cup or hugging somebody,” he said.
During his interview, Sheen said he felt compelled to come forward because of the onslaught of blackmail from people threatening to go public with his illness.
“People with HIV do have a right to privacy, which some people forget sometimes,” Mercredi said.
Sheen is one of a dozen celebrities who went public about their HIV positive status including former Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson, British singer Freddie Mercury, tennis star Arthur Ashe, and rapper and N.W.A. co-founder Eric Wright (Eazy-E).
Mercredi said no matter when someone chooses to disclose their illness, it is accompanied by fear of rejection and discrimination. He said depression is common among people who have just been diagnosed.
Saskatchewan’s 2013 infection rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people is well above the five per 100,000 national average. Mercredi said the numbers are slowly dropping thanks to increased awareness and testing, but better access and increased resources for rural and remote communities are needed.
The province’s first HIV transitional home, Sanctum, opened in Saskatoon at the beginning of the month. The home provides out-of-hospital care and shelter to patients.
– With files from the Canadian Press