Solita Jefferies on the work to be done with HIV/AIDS in Charlotte

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The Red Pump/Red Tie Affair is an annual event that celebrates the art of fashionable philanthropy and took place on Dec. 3 at LaCa Projects. The fundraiser commemorated World AIDS Day 2016 and raised awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDs on women and girls in the greater Charlotte community.

The highlight of the evening was the awards ceremony that honors a woman who is a community leader and dedicates her time and energy to fight the battle against HIV/AIDS. The 2016 Red Pump Honoree is Solita Jefferies, Patient Navigator with Mecklenburg County Health Department. We talked with Jefferies about this honor, what her role entails and why it’s important to support HIV/AIDS awareness.

Tell us about your role as a Patient Navigator with Mecklenburg County.

Patient Navigation has been designed to meet the needs of those people newly infected with HIV. The HIV Care Continuum shows us that once a person knows their HIV status there’s a gap in services to connect them to medical care, particularly those who do not have private health insurance. Without regular medical care those people are not getting the life-saving medication that they need.

My primary role as Patient Navigator is to help those most vulnerable understand the medical system they’re about to engage in and mitigate any barriers to engaging in care. I set appointments and accompany patients to appointments until they feel confident they can manage their care, or connect them to longer-term services to continue their care. I really love what I get to do.

You are also involved in the Black Treatment Advocates Network Charlotte. Tell us a little about that network.

BTAN is one of the strategies the Black AIDS Institute employs to end AIDS in the black community. The Black Treatment Advocates Network is the only collaboration of its kind that links black Americans with HIV into care and treatment, strengthens local and national leadership, connects influential peers, raises HIV science and treatment literacy in black communities and advocates for a policy change and research priorities. There are 22 BTAN chapters across the country. The Charlotte chapter just launched this year. Our goal is to continue to make our presence known.

Why is it important for the Charlotte community to be aware of HIV/AIDS?

Charlotte is a beautiful city, a beautiful city that sometimes hides behind our Southern Charm. Charlotte continues to have the highest rates of HIV in our state. It’s important that we remain honest about the realities of our city and the work that still needs to be done.

Why is it necessary to do this work? 

The lives of those most heavily impacted by HIV look like me. They come from neighborhoods like mine. Their culture is mine. I am them and they are me, therefore I care and this work is absolutely vital to the continued betterment of my people. This work is important to me because people of color continue to carry the heaviest burden of this disease, despite not engaging in any behaviors more “risky” than their white counterparts. A history of medical mistrust and systems that were never created to serve us only complicate improving the lives of my people. I am confident this history can be undone and my work in HIV serves to move the needle.

 

What tips do you have for the general public that want to get involved with raising awareness of HIV/AIDS but aren’t sure how to go about it? 

Because HIV truly impacts all people in all walks of life, there’s a role for all people to play. If you’re a parent, talk to your children about compassion. We still need a lot of that to combat the stigma still surrounding HIV. Normalize conversations about HIV and other STIs. Routinely get screened for STIs and have honest conversations with friends, family and partners. If you hear people stating inaccurate information, correct them.. In order to do this you must stay informed yourself.

Photo: Jack Stutts Photography

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