It has been 30 years since Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, which gives him a unique perspective when it comes to understanding how the world responds to a major global disease. The legendary L.A. Lakers point guard went on CNN on Thursday (April 9) and drew comparisons between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current coronavirus pandemic as a way to show how misconceptions spread when people first learned about both.
"When I announced, it was considered a white, gay man’s disease," said Johnson, who went public in revealing he was infected with the virus in 1991 as he announced his retirement. "People were wrong. Blacks thought that they couldn’t get HIV and AIDS. It’s the same thing as coronavirus. We were all wrong and the numbers switched from a white, gay man’s disease to a minority disease, which it is today.
“The same thing here, misinformation went out in our community and said, oh, Blacks can’t get coronavirus and everybody’s been wrong about that, whoever’s been saying that in the Black community. So that’s why we see these numbers so high.”
Johnson also noted the parallels between coronavirus and HIV/AIDS and how both have negatively impacted the Black community because of health care disparities that existed with both diseases first hit African Americans.
"African Americans are leading in terms of dying from the coronavirus and most of them in the hospital are African American,” Johnson said during a Thursday appearance on CNN. "We have to do a better job as African Americans to follow social distancing, stay at home and make sure we educate our loved ones and our family members and do what we’re supposed to do to keep safe and healthy. Then when you add that up, we don’t have access to health care, quality health care. So many of us are uninsured. That also creates a problem, too. Just like it did with HIV and AIDS."
Johnson noted that when he was first diagnosed, there was only one drug to treat HIV, which was AZT. Now there are more than 30, including some that make the virus undetectable, although there is currently no cure.
Blacks accounted for 42 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although comprehensive nationwide data is not yet available, various cities are showing that African Americans represent a majority of its cases. In metropolitan areas like Chicago, Milwaukee and New Orleans Blacks comprise 70 percent of all infections although their share of the populations are 35 percent or less. In New York, Blacks and Latinos were reported to be twice as likely to die of COVID-19 complications.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is on the White House Coronavirus Task Force has also made comparisons between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I see a similarity here because health disparities have always existed for the African American community,” Dr. Fauci said. “Here again with the crisis, how it’s shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is because, yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, they are suffering disproportionately.”