As a Health Educator and Outreach Coordinator with Erie Family Health my role mainly consists of talking to members of the general public about HIV and AIDS. This can take the role of going over myths and facts about HIV in shelters around Chicago, discussing medication adherence at our monthly patient support groups, talking about risk reduction before-and-after HIV testing, and entering classrooms full of giggling high school students to discuss the importance of condoms. However, one moment of HIV education that really stuck out to me was at a health fair I facilitated at one of Erie’s clinics in December for World AIDS Day. While setting up the event I saw a woman pushing a baby stroller quietly enter the room. She told me that she realized we were still setting up, but that she had seen signs around the clinic for the fair and wanted to come by before she left. I offered to give her a quick tour around the half-ready booths, but instead she pulled me aside.
In an incredibly quiet voice, and unable to look me in the eye, this woman informed me that her brother had recently announced his HIV+ status to their family. She said that she wasn’t educated on the subject, but had a hard time believing the things her family told her about HIV: that it was a punishment for living a sinful lifestyle, that HIV+ people could not touch or share objects with HIV- people. She said she wanted to talk to her family about it, but didn’t know what exactly to say. We did not have much time to talk, but I made sure to let her know she was right to question those ideas from her family. We discussed a couple other misconceptions around the spread of HIV, how she can be a support to her brother, and ways to bring up this conversation again with her family. Before she left I made sure to give her as many Spanish-language resources I had on hand, and the clinic’s number in case she wanted to call with more questions.
It did not take me long as a Health Educator to realize that not everybody is open to being lectured at by strangers, especially about their health. However, thanks to interactions like these I have not lost hope of reaching the public and making an impact. Everyone may not always feel like listening, but when those who do mention that they will share what they learned with friends or family, or that baby in the stroller, I know that together we will be putting a dent in the pervasive miseducation and stigma around HIV in Chicago and beyond.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Lydia Nelson.
Lydia is a Health Educator and Outreach Coordinator with Erie Family Health Centers - Humboldt Park.