I vividly remember AIDS adverts in the 1980s – even as a child I knew that this was an important message about a dangerous subject. While I didn’t truly understand AIDS and HIV until I was older, the message was clear – do all you can to avoid contracting this illness. Today, thirty years later, Charlie Sheen went on TV to tell the world that he was HIV Positive – a brave and noble move, but it comes at a cost.
The generation that loved him in Two and a Half men or only know him from him “Winning!” or “Tiger Blood” have a very skewed view of him. The Charlie that we saw on screen womanizing and being subversive was matched in all the stories about him in his private life – things that he thrived on and created a character around himself. To the younger generations this is less a story of illness and risks, instead it becomes being one that has them shrug and say “Well it’s Charlie Sheen isn’t it.”
I don’t mean to be cruel to him as he’s obviously had to deal with this for the last four years and many have tried to blackmail him when they found out about his condition. That cannot have been easy, but when you read a line from him that says “a prostitute took a picture of his medication and threatened to sell it to newspapers.” you struggle to see how any positive message can come from this story. Yes he’s been honest, but it would seem it’s because he didn’t want to keep paying people off rather than wanted to do the right thing and open up a conversation about disease.
It won’t surprise you to know that Charlie is not friend, or even an acquaintance – and quite rightly can shoot me down along with all the other voices that will be saying negative things about him. I don’t think anyone deserves to contract any illness. I’m not glad that he has HIV. I don’t think that it serves him right. But there will be many people who will and the way he now deals with this will be hugely important in shaping the way people see this disease.
We know that STIs are on the increase amongst those in their teens and twenties. If Sheen does anything off the back of this it should be to work with the Terrence Higgins Trust, The Aids Foundation, Elton John AIDS Trust or AIDS Alliance to ensure the right messages and information are getting out there. Everyone will now want to interview him about the illness, his lifestyle, the effects and the future. If he plays it right he could educate millions about this horrible disease. I really hope he takes this opportunity to put things in perspective for young and old alike.
I’m not having a go at those younger than me, but having taught kids who are now in their late teens and early twenties, they did not get the same messages about HIV and AIDS that we did at school and on TV. The field was flooded with Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and all the other lovely images of sexually transmitted illnesses they show the kids. AIDS was just another one in the list and it needs to be at the top to emphasise just how dangerous it can be.
I hope people give Charlie Sheen the space to come to terms with this public announcement and that he in turn uses the opportunity he now has to improve people’s understanding of the illness. If he continues to be a laughing-stock as he once was, then I worry that the illness won’t be taken as seriously as it should be. And it goes without saying I really hope he gets all the help he needs to stay healthy and live a long and productive life.
If you want to know more about the illness and the differences between HIV and AIDS and why it is no longer a death sentence it once was visit the Terrence Higgins Trust pages at http://www.tht.org.uk/