Gaining a holistic understanding of HIV to help protect vulnerable communities

August 29, 2014

The best way so solve a problem is to know it from all angles. That’s why Alan Johnson, Linkage to Care Coordinator at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, enrolled in the African American HIV University Science and Treatment College, a year-long research and training program that examines HIV/AIDS from every angle.

Alan JohnsonSponsored by the Black AIDS Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles, the program included hands-on mentoring, lectures and intimate access to researchers, clinicians and other HIV experts from a range of academic disciplines.

“The program let us understand HIV from the molecular level as well as the larger socio-ecological factors often associated with HIV infection,” said Johnson, who completed his 2013-14 fellowship this summer.

The program offers extensive knowledge about advances in HIV science and HIV testing technologies that are now able to detect acute HIV infection.

“We are learning how to get information about HIV to the community at large, and we are engaging traditional black institutions to do it.”

Johnson, a Chicago native, graduated from De Paul University with a Masters in Public Health and has focused on sexual health promotion in a variety of ways for over eight years.

“I want to get the messages out around HIV testing and the advances that have occurred in HIV treatment. I want to work to expand the prevention conversation beyond condoms, to look at the entire toolkit as we develop messages around sexual health.”

And access to education is not the only element that allows the HIV epidemic to continue to affect people’s lives.

“Fear is a huge barrier for people living with HIV and vulnerable to it,” observed Johnson. “People are afraid of engaging with the medical system and fearful of the stigma. This is especially true for communities of color.”

The fight against this epidemic is a personal battle for Johnson.

“I have seen the toll of HIV on the body; I have seen someone close to me die from HIV/AIDS. It has had an impact on my family, and I wanted to make sure it was not silenced or hidden.”

Johnson will continue to work in prevention at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, using the additional knowledge that he has received through this program to link and retain newly diagnosed individuals in medical care. His colleague, Manager of Prevention Anthony Galloway, has enrolled in the program for 2014-15.

Categorized under Inside Story.

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