December 01, 2015

I for 'Issued in public interest'

Around a fortnight ago, the famous Charlie 'Harper' Sheen (of 'Two and a half men' fame) shocked the world with a confession. He said he is a diagnosed HIV positive patient since the last four years.
 (See video below)

Now, there are a lot of things in the above video that Charlie Sheen has admitted to. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just terribly honest.
To sum up, the good part is his decision to confess his medical status. After all, honesty is always the best policy. However, the fact that this man has come out with a confession like that after four whole years of being detected, is a little worrisome. Charlie admitted to have been subjected to a lot of stress, blackmail and turmoil due to his medical condition, which apparently caused him to be drained not just emotionally but also financially.

When I first heard this bit of news on CNN, I was shell hocked. I had been quite a big fan of 'Two and a half men' in the past, and like so many others belonging to my generation, my loyalty towards the show remained only until it had Charlie Sheen starring in it. Not even Ashton Kutcher could recreate the magic of a deceased Charlie Harper (the lovable character played by Sheen). Charlie had left us with an irresistibly smart and charmingly sexy jingle composer who despite being flawed in his own ways, was loved by men and women the world over. So much was his fan following, that he was one of the highest paid actors on TV at the time, at $1.25 million per episode. This was until the actor had a public meltdown after a spat with the show's creator, after which 'Two and a half men' gradually lost its viewership. The show was getting just too painful with Charlie gone from it.

Come 2015, and Charlie made a comeback, but sadly not in the way we wanted him to. This cool guy was back with a startling confession. The grapevine spoke. Had the actor been taking his role a little too seriously? However, while we pointed fingers at the ironical resemblance between the reel and real 'Casanova' image he must have played, we were forgetting one important thing. We were forgetting to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that Charlie Sheen had shown great courage to come out in the open about something no body wants to talk about...HIV, the skeleton in his cupboard.

Every year, on December 1st, we as a world come together for a common cause. We spread awareness, we empathize, we support, we promise not to discriminate. However, as the calender moves forward, our resolve gets stuck in reverse gear. We humans are known for our short term memory. Add to that, procrastination and indifference unless something really shakes us up, unless something is really happening to us or our loved ones. Don't you think that needs to change?

Today, on World Aids Day, lets start by pledging to maintain our resolution to fight against HIV. This can be done by our conscious decision to target the virus not the victim.What is imperative is a constant sense of awareness about this dreaded condition. It is said that the road to safety has a lot of bill boards along the way. However, if we keep ignoring them, there are chances that we might lose direction. Isn't it better to pay attention and stay safe?

Some lesser known facts that we usually ignore:
  • People living with HIV on effective treatment can expect a normal life expectancy.
  • In the UK, only 0.3% people with HIV develop AIDS and even then they can recover and go back to their previous HIV positive status.
  • Patients on effective HIV treatment are non-infectious.
  • Kissing does not spread HIV. Ignorance does.
  • A HIV positive patient on treatment with antiretroviral drugs should still practice safe sex. Even though the drugs may lower the level of the virus in blood tests, research shows that the virus may be hidden in other parts of the body. Hence unprotected sex can cause the partner from contracting HIV too. 
  • Sometimes HIV positive patients can be asymptomatic for years. The only way to find out is by getting tested.
  • Unprotected oral sex or sex between two HIV positive individuals can cause them to be exposed to other potentially resistant HIV strains. 
  • AntiRetroviral Therapy (ART) is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. It is a life long treatment and can help HIV infected individuals lead a longer and healthier life.
However, the availability of AntiRetroViral drugs should not be the reason for flippancy from our side. These drugs are expensive and can produce serious side effects. Besides, drug resistant strains of HIV make treatment very difficult. Hence prevention is the only way to stay safe.

Having said that, if you slap yourself for every time you showed a biased attitude towards an HIV positive patient, you will be left with flushed cheeks. But that is the kind of discrimination HIV patients have to deal with in our society. We can put an end to this unjust treatment only by educating ourselves and our friends, and spreading more and more awareness. Lets begin with ourselves first.

We need to be aware that HIV affected individuals need our care and support. Be kind. Be mindful. Be considerate towards those affected, they are fighting a tough battle already, a battle filled with regret, guilt and shame. We may not be able to end their misery. We may not succeed to wipe off that one horrible memory they have been living with each day since they were diagnosed, that guilt they have been experiencing for perhaps having trusted the wrong people a little too much, or having taken life and health for granted. We may not make it any easier for them to face their own conscience. But we can always be understanding of their condition. Lets embrace and support them as fellow humans who weren't aware of the consequences a tiny act could hold. Lets join hands with them and fight this battle against AIDS by making safe choices, by getting ourselves tested, by learning from their mistakes.
A lot of people never come out in the open because of the stigma attached to the disease. It is disheartening when someone is reckless and irresponsible enough to hide their medical status from their partners, thus putting them at risk of contracting the virus too. But thinking about it, had society by and large not been so biased about HIV, had it not ostracized those affected, had it not condemned their mistake, secluded their families and brought them shame, fear and embarrassment, we would be having a lot more HIV affected people coming clean to their partners, and conversely, a lot less unsuspecting victims.

I end here with a takeaway message, one that we all are aware and yet needs to be reiterated. Please feel no shame to talk about HIV with your doctor. If you are unsure of your past WRT any mode of transmission, do get yourself tested. You'd be doing yourself and your future partner a favor. We are in this fight together. With adequate awareness, detection and treatment, we can make our generation an AIDS free generation.
Do not push HIV away in medicine cabinets and clandestine diaries. Talk about it like any other illness that needs to be eradicated.



I for 'Issued in public interest' is the ninth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of write-up's by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject.


Maliny said...

You have sketched the undercurrents of the disease and the taboo the disease suffers in the society quite explicitly. Awareness is indeed the need of the hour!

Pri said...

Thanks Maliny :)
The first and most important step to improvement is always awareness. It is only when there is enough awareness that we can expect one to act in the right direction.

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