The Root: You mentioned that a number of drug companies have tried to enlist your endorsement. Why choose OraQuick?
Magic Johnson: It’s a game changer for us in the HIV and AIDS community, especially when you think about the black and brown community. We don’t want to go to the clinic. We don’t want anybody to see us at the doctor. We don’t want people to know if we’re HIV-positive or not.
A lot of the things that have troubled us about HIV and AIDS or we’ve had questions about, now we’re saying, “You can have this test and you can do it in your own home, privately. If you want people to be there or not, that’s up to you. You just need to know your status.” It makes a difference, because I think more people will be willing to get tested, whether it is as a couple, with their girlfriends or with their boys. They’ll know their results, and if they are HIV-positive, there’s great information in [the OraQuick package] that can get them to a doctor, including a 1-800 hotline. If they have questions, someone will be able to answer them.
TR: Receiving a positive test result could be traumatic. Does the hotline also provide access to therapists?
MJ: Yes. You might want to call someone to ask something like, “What am I supposed to do now?” People will have a lot of different questions, just like I did when I found out. I had to search out someone who was living with the disease, Elizabeth Glaser, so she could help me. Now we’re going to have somebody available on the hotline, and wherever the caller is, the hotline operator can send them to a doctor or health care provider so they can get on a regimen.
The things that saved my life were early detection, I got on my meds and I accepted my new status 21 years ago. That’s what people have to do today, along with exercise, a healthy diet and some sort of support system.
TR: The HIV-prevention pill Truvada was released earlier this year to mixed reviews and some, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, would say negative reaction. What did OraSure do differently as a company to introduce their product to the HIV and AIDS community?
MJ: HIV and AIDS groups helped build OraSure; it wasn’t just a company doing it. Everybody came together and said, “This is what we’re going to need.” Everything you see in the OraQuick package, OraSure partnered with organizations to help create this, as well as the Centers for Disease Control. If a person gets a positive test result, all of the information he or she will need is in the pamphlets that come with the product. That’s why I think it’s different.
TR: What’s the biggest problem you see in the path toward defeating the HIV and AIDS epidemic?
MJ: Testing. Now blacks and Latinos make up 50 percent of the new cases. A lot of us are walking around without knowing that we are positive because we won’t get tested and keep infecting people. We’ve got to change our mindset, and I think that because of OraQuick, it will be easier for people to get tested together at home.
Hillary Crosley is The Root‘s New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.