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Jamal Hailey: Being a Frontline Soldier in the War on HIV is Personal, Part One

Jamal Hailey has his own personal stake in the war on HIV he's helping to wage: two of his family members have succumbed to the virus.
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Jamal Hailey has his own personal stake in the war on HIV he's helping to wage: two of his family members have succumbed to the virus.

Mr. Hailey is quite accomplished: a native of suburban Maryland, he's a HIV expert, social/behavioral researcher and advocate for marginalized groups. He has spent more than a decade working to improve the lives of adolescents and young adults in Baltimore City, with a major focus on ensuring that youth have access to healthcare.

Hailey has a dual Bachelor's of Science in Psychology and Sociology (with a minor in LGBT studies) and Master of Arts in Psychology from Towson University. He's currently enrolled in Howard University's Counseling Psychology PhD Program. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Hailey.

EVANS: Jamal, you're co-chair of the Black AIDS Institutes' BTAN (Black Treatment Advocates Network) Baltimore and director of programs for the University of Maryland, School of Medicine's STAR TRACK (Special Teens At-Risk, Together Reaching Access, Care and Knowledge). What are the missions of both organizations? And, what are your duties and responsibilities?

HAILEY: The mission of BTAN is to produce and support a nationwide network of highly trained black treatment advocates who will (1) serve as educators and opinion leaders in their communities; (2) provide a pipeline of trained black Americans for community advisory boards; (3) facilitate expanded black participation in clinical trials; (4) increase early utilization of appropriate treatment; and (5) improve treatment adherence in black communities. My role as co-chair is to build relationships with other community partners and provide general direction for the Baltimore chapter.

The mission of the STAR TRACK is to provide leadership on adolescent HIV health issues by (1) providing comprehensive, individualized and confidential health care to HIV-infected and at-risk adolescents and young adults; (2) providing youth-friendly health education, prevention, and early identification services to HIV-infected and at-risk adolescents, young adults, and their communities; (3) conducting research to contribute to the knowledge leading to improvement of health, risk reduction and reduction of HIV transmission; (4) training and educating professionals from a variety of disciplines regarding care, research and prevention for HIV-infected and at-risk adolescents; (5) advocating on behalf of HIV-infected and at-risk adolescents and their families; and (6) facilitating collaboration among the many organizations in Maryland and in the region that provide services to HIV-infected and at-risk adolescents and their families. My role with the STAR TRACK program is to provide general direction and leadership for all non-clinical/medical programs, including HIV prevention and education services; adherence and retention to care programming; and HIV testing and counseling programming.

EVANS: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the epidemic has hit African-Americans the hardest. Specifically, what's going on in Baltimore?

HAILEY: We are definitely seeing an increase in HIV among young gay men 13-24 in Baltimore; however, that does not mean that everyone else is in the clear. In Baltimore, there is a larger number of relatively young men, 25-34, who are living with HIV. Our efforts here have to include outreach and dedicated services to men in this age range. Outside of MSM (men who have sex with men), HIV is still a problem among black women, of all ages, and transgender populations. The current rates of HIV among transgender communities are staggering and we need to do more to have transgender people leading initiatives aimed at addressing HIV in their communities. Finally, we definitely need to address the rising HIV rates in the aging population.

EVANS: You have stated, and I quote, "The HIV epidemic in Baltimore is pretty interesting and unique." Do elaborate.

HAILEY: I think that Baltimore is interesting and unique in terms of HIV for a couple of reasons. First, there are two major research institutions here in Baltimore that provide a larger portion of the care for persons living with HIV and are providing some cutting edge research as it relates to HIV; yet, Baltimore still has some of the highest rates of HIV in the country.
I think more than anything, Baltimore is a prime example of what happens when there is not enough done to ensure there is a true partnership between community and institutions when it comes to health care.

EVANS: You've stated, and I quote, "Part of the resistance in Baltimore to any medical treatment is the long-standing abuse of populations by our medical systems." Do you find this to be truer for African-Americans in Baltimore?

HAILEY: I feel that we as health professionals have to acknowledge our role in the continued spread of HIV in black communities. For too long we have engaged in a certain amount of negligence when it comes to providing healthcare to black people overall. We have not properly acknowledged the trauma that many blacks have experienced as the result of our healthcare and research institutions. How many stories have we all heard about black people receiving suboptimal care, poor health information, or participating in questionable research? These incidences fuel the mistrust in our medical systems and create barriers for black people to access and health information. At some point we (healthcare professionals) have to address the systemic issues within our own systems that lead to health care disparities like HIV.

Next up: stigma, the intersection of HIV and IPV/A, HIV prevention and care from a radical social justice perspective, and the practice of "counseling psychology."

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