Magic Johnson’s HIV Disclosure Helped to Shatter Stigmas. But 30 Years Later, Disparities in Treatment Remain

For many watching Earvin “Magic” Johnson on television on Nov. 7, 1991, his words were tantamount to an announcement of his own death sentence. Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s words were tantamount to an announcement of his own death sentence. ConferenceJohnson and the Los Angeles Lakers quickly convened Johnson after an outlet in the local press reported the news. Johnson, a 32-year old NBA star, revealed that he had been diagnosed with HIV.

Dr. Michael Mellman, then the Lakers team physician, remembers a last-minute conversation with Johnson, just before they walked out to face a sea of cameras: “He looked at me and said, I just want to get this straight, I have HIV, not AIDS, right?”
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Johnson maintained calmness and realism despite the circumstances. And he followed his disclosure with a second bombshell, announcing his retirement from basketball—a sport he had dominated for much of his 13-season career, Earning more than 17,000 Pointsthanks for helping to propel the Lakers towards five NBA Championships.

(Johnson’s career was in fact not over, on the court or off – just a few months later he played in the 1992 NBA All-Star game, and on the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. In 1995-1996, he also played for the Lakers.

In the years that followed, Johnson was “extremely fortunate” in being able to live with and manage the virus with treatments available at the time, in particular before the 1996 release of a potent Triple-combination TherapyThat is it. HIV/AIDS has prolonged many people’s livesThis is Dr. Anthony Fauci who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I knew many people, many of whom were friends of mine, who were infected at the same time—but their disease progressed so rapidly that by the time optimal therapy was available, they had already passed away,” says Fauci, who was among those who Johnson counseledFollowing his diagnosis

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), The acquired immunodeficiency (AIDS) is a condition that causes immune deficiency.It can cause. This term had been in the American mainstream lexicon for ten years before it was used to describe young men who were seemingly well and presented with pneumonia. Usually seen in patients with immunocompromised conditionsIt is. The number of viruses was increasing rapidly in the 1980s as scientists tried to find a cure. Continued to climb—and AIDS was fatal for virtually Everyone with it is diagnosed It had claimed the title in 1991. More than 100,000 LivesAccording to statistical data on all known cases, the answer is “Yes.”

Learn more TIME readers: Read The First Story to Explain AIDS

Some of those who perished were well known—Disney lyricist Howard Ashman, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, artist Keith Haring and dancer/choreographer Alvin Ailey, to name just a few. The film star Rock Hudson, one of the first major celebrities to acknowledge that he had AIDS, died in 1985; just weeks after Johnson’s announcement, Queen singer Freddie Mercury diedAIDS-related complications Leonard Matlovich was decorated Vietnam veteran who had served in the United States Marine Corps. On the cover of TIME in 1975 above the words “I Am a Homosexual” in his bid to challenge his discharge from the Air Force, died in 1988.

To add to the suffering of people with HIV, there was little understanding or sympathy among public speakers. Morality and medical knowledge were often undercut by morality. To make HIV more common, it took many years of education. Not spread by casual contactJohnson had feared that Johnson would return in the 1990s, and it was something other players were afraid of.

“I think sometimes we think only gay people can get it… I am saying that it can happen to anybody—even me,” Johnson told reporters, facing his stark new reality with a mixture of pragmatism and optimism at a time when reassurances were in limited supply. “Life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man,” he predicted, vowing to become a “spokesman” for the virus.

Matt A. Brown—NBAE/Getty ImagesClients wait in line for a free HIV test at a mobile testing center as part of the “I Stand with Magic” program on Dec. 3, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.

He was already in many ways. The days following, the emotions of shock, admiration, and sadness merged as Magic’s fans learned the truth. “The day after he told the world,” the Associated Press reported, “people talked and cried and thought about little else.” Having such a “beloved” public figure reveal his HIV infection, Fauci says, “really jolted people into a much more empathetic view towards people who were living with HIV.”

He announced his immediate effect. On the next day, there were calls to testing centers doubled His announcement was made one month later. HIV testing rose nearly 60%New York City

However bipartisanWhile there was obvious support for the disease, it took a while before resources could be raised at a level that would meet the needs of this epidemic. Four years later, the virus was not mentioned publicly by President Ronald Reagan. The first time he spoke about AIDS in public was in 1987. Johnson also criticized George H.W. Bush’s successor. Bush, for “lip service” when he resigned from the National Commission on AIDS in 1992.) However, federal funding rose dramatically from the beginning of 1990s, helping to make it possible for breakthroughs in treatment. Today 1.2 million peopleCurrently, there are over 200,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in America. What was once considered to be an indicator of illness and death is now chronic, manageable and common for many. Antiretroviral treatment has suppressed the symptoms Medikamente

But despite the remarkable progress in treating the virus over the past 40 years, glaring disparities persist—HIV continues to disproportionately burden minority groups. Despite making up 13 percent of all Americans, Black/African American people still make up 13 percent. It was responsible for 22% of diagnosticsIn the United States, 2019; Hispanic and Latino people That’s a figure of 29 percentThis is. Given current trends, we are “on track to end the epidemic among white Americans much sooner than we are among black and Latino Americans,” says Dr. Oni Blackstock, founder and executive director ofJustice for the Health Blackstock previously led the New York City health department’s response to HIV.

Learn more For HIV/AIDS Survivors, COVID-19 Reawakened Old Trauma—And Renewed Calls for Change

Many of these disparities—among them insurance coverage, access to health care, the prevalence of underlying conditions—have also been mirrored in the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson spoke out in an interview with Johnson, April 2020. It was obvious that the impact is enormousBlack Americans have been affected by COVID-19 Hospitalized, sickened and finally died at higher rates; Fauci sees commonalities in the “the underlying root cause of disparities in health, be it from HIV or COVID-19,” as well as a range of other illnesses.

That is all ultimately rooted, when you talk about social determinants of health, in the smoldering and inherent and persistent racism in our society,” Fauci continues. “That’s just a fact and you can’t run away from that.”

In the face of these persistent realities, Johnson’s words from that day retain their relevance three decades later. Johnson decided to take a stand in the face, of uncertain futures and denial about HIV at a time when it was all too common. “It’s like your back is against the wall, and I think that you just have to come out swinging—and I’m swinging,” he said in his announcement.

“This was Earvin. I had never known him to back down from or hesitate to go towards whatever he had to do,” Mellman recalls. “I was not surprised by what he did… It’s who he is and who he was.”


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