July 26, 2010
Scarlett Johansson inadvertently made herself the unofficial STD testing Los Angeles spokesperson when she offered her opinion on how frequently people should be checked for HIV. In an interview, Scarlett spoke of how she considered it ‘disgusting’ and ‘irresponsible’ that people neglect to get checked for STDs.
For a short time, the actress and top-earning Hollywood star brought the media spotlight onto the social issue of regular STD testing. Los Angeles resident, Johansson told an interviewer that she gets tested for HIV every six months. Furthermore, she stated how she thinks poorly of people who don’t try or care to know about their sexual health, saying that to get a regular STD test "is part of being a decent human".
Getting tested twice a year might seem exceptionally frequent to some people. Could being motivated to get tested so often indicate that the safe sex practices in Hollywood are otherwise lax or inadequate? Knowing the reputation for fast-and-loose living that Hollywood has, Scarlett was quick to point out that she is far from promiscuous, saying "[people] are mistaken for thinking I’m sexually available in some way."
Lifestyles and speculation aside, Johansson has raised the profile and reduced the stigma of STD testing in Los Angeles and beyond. The actress’s comments motivated the British press to print statistics from the National AIDS Trust, which stated that there were as many as seven thousand new cases of HIV diagnosed in the UK in 2006. "Diseases will continue to spread unless we stop stigmatizing" said a spokesperson, adding that responsible behavior is the proper use of condoms and getting an STD test whenever you put yourself at risk.
L.A. Charities and Projects
Back on this side of the Atlantic, citizens can now find free STD testing in Los Angeles County.
APLA (which stands for Aids Project Los Angeles) is a disease prevention and advocacy service whose statistics show that there are between 42,400 – 46,600 people living with the knowledge and burden of a positive HIV test in LA.
This alarming figure is taken from the "Program of HIV Epidemiology and STD testing" by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, an official study conducted two years ago, in 2008. Worryingly, the same study suggests that there is a significant portion of the local population (about 15,000) that does not know that they are carrying the virus.
Both APLA and the UK’s National AIDS Trust agree that the issue of undiagnosed carrier is partly because of the shame, reluctance, apathy and stigma surrounding getting an STD test. In Los Angeles, APLA launched the ‘What you don’t know CAN kill you’ in 1991 to try to encourage testing uptake.
Looking further back, a 1985 country-wide poll placed 72% of American in favor of obligatory STD testing, which sounds encouraging. However, the same survey also suggested that half of our nation agree with quarantine for HIV carriers. Still more alarming is that 15 percent of Americans consider it a good idea to tattoo people who have the disease.
Despite the controversies and hearsay, when high-profile celebrities like Scarlett Johansson speak out on the issue, it helps the cause of activists and charities that are battling to raise awareness and stem the spread of HIV and other diseases.
© 2010 The Top Star blog