by Drew Lovell
The thought of living with a chronic STI can be rather daunting. From significant lifestyle changes, to life-long medication, to periods of flare ups and more; there are a number of inconveniences you have to learn to live with. That’s why this article, Three Inspirational Public Figures Living with STIs, exists.
You see, it doesn't have to mean a life of misery and embarrassment that some might have you believe...
Nowadays, there are a number of support systems for people living with sexually transmitted diseases, such as the amazing Terrence Higgins Trust, established to provide medical advice, support, community and comfort for people living with AIDS and HIV.
Groundbreaking television shows such as It’s A Sin have also broken down barriers and have made a new generation aware of the symptoms of HIV and the symptoms of AIDS.
Additionally, celebrities with HIV and celebrities with AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections have bravely spoken up, hoping to change stigmas and to inspire others.
It’s these public figures we’re focusing on in this article, and hope you’ll find some encouragement from the stories of these three luminaries:
1. Magic Johnson.
Earvin ‘Magic Johnson’, Jr. is inspirational in so many ways. First and foremost, he’s one of the greatest sporting figures who has ever lived. He’s been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame two times, and was honoured as one of the 50 Greatest Basketball Players in NBA History in 1996.
But athletic accolades aside, Magic makes our inspirational list as he was one of the first high-profile sports-people to come out as HIV positive. This was back in November 1991, a time when the media were portraying AIDS and HIV as a death sentence, and a ‘gay disease.’
At the time, the number of high profile figures dying from AIDS and HIV related deaths were rising. Names such as Rock Hudson, Keith Haring, Miles Davis and (a few weeks after Magic went public) Freddie Mercury all added to the media frenzy that surrounded this ‘deadly disease’. Therefore, the decision to inform the press of his illness was a brave step forward into fighting the battle against AIDS and HIV discrimination.
Going public didn’t come without a cost, however, as a handful of fellow ballers expressed fears of playing with Johnson in case they might get infected.
Since his admission, Magic’s contributions to HIV awareness have been some of his biggest achievements.
Even during his initial press release, Johnson stated that he wanted to become a ‘spokesperson for the HIV virus’, and that he certainly has.
In 1991, he set up the Magic Johnson Foundation, which initially formed to educate people about HIV prevention. It’s since raised over $20 million for charities and almost $4 million in scholarships.
Just over a year after his shock announcement, a study was conducted to see what effect, if any, it had had on young people's attitudes towards sexual health. 60% of respondents said that Magic Johnson had increased their awareness of AIDS. 65% reported increased self-efficacy in a sexual situation, and 37% described increased resistance to peer pressure for sexual intercourse.
As well as giving talks at colleges and universities on what it’s like living with HIV, Johnson also released a book to help and inform and to increase prevention, titled What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS.
2. Dame Anita Roddick (OBE)
Anita Roddick was a business guru, environmental campaigner and human rights activist - she was also diagnosed with having hepatitis C. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Anita’s story is that she wasn’t diagnosed with hepatitis C until 2004, after a blood test she had to have for a life insurance policy. By Anita’s own accord, hepatitis C was something she contracted after a blood transfusion way back in 1971, a lifesaving necessity she required after the birth of her youngest daughter. Britain didn’t start screening blood for hepatitis C until 1991, a full twenty years after the transfusion.
So what is it about Anita’s story that is so inspirational? The symptoms of hepatitis C in women are a long and rather bleak list. They include: fatigue, itching, muscle weakness, nausea, stomach pain and jaundice.
If Anita did contract hepatitis C from her blood transfusion in 1971, then not even these symptoms stopped her from achieving all the success she did.
She opened the first ever Body Shop in 1976 in Brighton between two funeral parlours. Her intention was simply to earn some extra income for her and her two daughters whilst her husband was on business in South America.
By 2004, The Body Shop had 1,980 stores worldwide, serving over 77 million customers. Anita eventually sold the Body Shop to L’Oreal in 2006 for £652 million.
Along the way, she accomplished dizzying feats such as being awarded an OBE, two honorary doctorates, and the 1984 Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year.
Anita announced she had been suffering from hepatitis C in 2007, saying,‘I have hepatitis C. It’s a bit of a bummer, but you groan and you move on.’
Riddick went on to endorse the endeavours of The Hepatitis C Trust and proved to everyone that not only can you live a normal life whilst suffering from a chronic STI, but you can thrive as well.
3. Charlie Sheen
Finally, you may be wondering why Charlie Sheen is on this list of public figures who are inspirations when it comes to living with a serious STI. His offscreen lifestyle and bizarre comments have certainly raised some eyebrows over the years (remember the 2011 ABC interview where Charlie said he was a warlock who has tiger blood?!)
Four years later, Charlie hit the headlines worldwide for another interview, this time for more sobering reasons. In 2015, he appeared on The Today Show, where he admitted to being HIV positive.
He’s later said that opening up about living with HIV was a ‘freeing experience.' Also, that he feels like a ‘torch bearer’ for others living with the same disease.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect about Charlie Sheen’s HIV interview was the domino effect it had. Known simply as 'The Charlie Sheen Effect', Charlie’s announcement brought about the largest number of HIV related Google searches ever recorded. During the weeks following the broadcast, there were:
75 million more searches than expected that included the term ‘HIV'.
25 million searches that were related to public health outcomes due to keywords such as condoms, HIV symptoms and HIV testing.
95% increase in the purchase of over-the-counter HIV home-testing kits.
Whether intentional or not, you have to admire the fact that Sheen’s revelation inspired so many to self-educate themselves on HIV related matters, or to buy a HIV home testing kit.
The truth is, getting diagnosed with an incurable STI is scary, but as these public figures have proved, living with an incurable STI doesn't have to be.
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Drew Lovell has created content for various tech and entertainment companies, including Disney Online. His latest role was for a leading learning tech company, which saw him as the head of YouTube, chief blogger and social media expert. Drew has also written comedy for BBC Radio Four, released x2 podcast series, and x3 novels.