Finding out you have an incurable disease is scary enough, but when there's a stigma attached, it can be even worse.
Just ask accomplished celebrities living with HIV, such as Project Runway star Jack Mackenroth, recording artist Paul Lekakis, and Australian Olympian Ji Wallace.
Healthline Networks' You've Got This campaign aims to ease the fears experienced by more than 2 million people newly diagnosed with HIV worldwide. It also lets them address the stigma head on, and raises money to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.
The company is encouraging anyone with HIV to upload a video sharing their success story. By offering reassurance and support, they can let those with a recent diagnosis know it isn't the end of the world.
Mackenroth explains in his video that he received his diagnosis 24 years ago, in 1989. “I was concerned about survival,” he said. “I thought I would be dead in a few years.”
Instead, he continued to thrive as a successful model and is doing well. He encourages those newly diagnosed with HIV to get medical treatment and support from the many HIV and AIDS organizations that exist today. “Do your best not to internalize that shame or internalize that blame,” he said.
Lekakis became a sensation in the 1980s with his well-known hit, “Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room).”
He has been HIV-positive for 25 years. “Take care of yourself, you can handle it,” he says in his video. “I'm not a saint, but I can tell you that I've made very large decisions in my life in order to be healthy.”
In an interview with Healthline, Lekakis explained that it took him 12 years to publicly come out as HIV-positive, but that now things are different. “The stigma was really, really, really intense back then, it was a you-could-lose-your-job kind of thing.”
He remembers awkward moments when partners would ask his status after sex. He even made a film that traveled the indie circuit called Don't Tell, Don't Ask. Now, he makes dance music.
Tracy Rosecrans, marketing director for Healthline, said people recently diagnosed with HIV need not feel alone. “This initiative is meant to provide them with some hope and a feeling of community," she said. "They have a place to go to get some sound advice from those who are dealing with the disease themselves. The goal is to let them know that they can still live a full and healthy life.”
Healthline also offers an HIV Facebook Awareness community for infected people to learn about new medical developments as well as connect with others.
Speaking about the day he learned he was infected, Wallace said in his video, “I just wanted to scream at the world, 'Know your status!'”
Travis Holp of Dayton, Ohio, agreed. He just learned he was HIV-positive in June. Already, he's talking about it and gladly posted a video for You've Got This.
“I have friends who are HIV-positive and they keep it very hush-hush,” he told Healthline. “I don't understand how they must be feeling.”
Holp said he is inspired by people like Josh Robbins, an HIV-positive blogger in Nashville who has become an advocate for people living with the disease.
“Being so public with my status is so important to me because there's so many people I know who don't get tested or don't know their status,” Holp said. “Go get tested and wear a condom!”