February 3rd, 2016
I was chatting with Donna, our Executive Director the other day, and she asked if I’d read this article about the latest HIV explosion regarding Charlie Sheen. Sheen, who publicly disclosed his HIV positive status in November, has spoken about his HIV treatment choices, and the one causing a storm was his decision to follow a goat milk alternative therapy that he revealed on Dr. Oz. Yes, goat’s milk.
What happened next is that Bill Maher hosted the man behind the milk, giving him air time on how he can cure AIDS and cancer through his own special treatment. This kind of claim will sound familiar (and possibly spark anxiety) to those who lived through the days before HIV drugs were available. Pre 1996 this kind of claim was common and everyone was desperate for a cure.
But this is 2016, and science and success know better. Millions of people are living well with HIV and not progressing to AIDS. It is research and refining treatments that has brought us here, not miracle cure claims.
Treatment decisions are up to individuals- they’re the one who has to take the meds for life. Ordinarily, this decision is personal and private, but because Charlie Sheen has chosen to disclose these decisions and is guaranteed media coverage, I would hope that balanced health education should be made available. Thanks to Bill Maher and his producer’s choices, it certainly wasn’t.
This kind of “reporting” makes me mad. It is Bill Maher using his platform to spread dangerous information. Apparently Dr. Oz questioned whether Sheen’s “doctor” made scientifically valid decisions. The fact that Dr. Oz questions Bill Maher’s guest is significant, because Dr. Oz himself is challenged by doctors for the crud HE claims.
This issue is way bigger than Charlie Sheen. I see it as a dip into the AIDS denialism pool, which is dangerous and deadly. AIDS denialism may have faded as prominent deniers like Christine Maggiore died of AIDS related causes, but it is still around. Sheen has gone back on conventional HIV treatment. I hope for his sake his counts are good and his overall health sound.
I found out today that American activist Maria Mejia has started a petition demanding that Bill Maher host an HIV medical expert who can respond to the milk man’s claims. She writes that the misinformation presented so far hits “Vulnerable people dealing with HIV, people who trust Bill Maher because he has made a career out of calling out science denialists. But this time, he has enabled one and it could cost people their money, health, and lives.”
She’s right- in the case of HIV, denialism is a deadly thing.