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AIDS Alabama: Mentoring Youth Through Its Living Out Loud Initiative

Mentoring and supporting youth living with HIV to address gaps in care

For the past 30 years, AIDS Alabama has helped people living with HIV in Alabama, focusing on housing, supportive services, and HIV prevention and education, as well as free and confidential HIV testing. Although major advancements have been made toward reducing the impact of HIV in the United States since the organization opened its doors, HIV continues to disproportionately affect certain people and communities, including youth aged 13 to 24 – an age group that comprises one in five new HIV diagnoses.1 In Alabama, HIV rates are especially high, with 12,643 people living with HIV in the state.2

Youth living with HIV are the least likely of any age group to be linked to care in a timely manner, which is due to lack of access to information and tools they need to navigate the healthcare system to access treatment.3  In the Deep South, where the HIV disease burden is magnified, youth living with HIV have the lowest rates of viral suppression out of any community living with HIV across the United States- at just 8 percent.4 With funding provided by ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action for Youth program, AIDS Alabama launched Living Out Loud, a mentoring project for youth (ages 13 to 24) living with HIV to help address these gaps in HIV care. Mentors provide support in medical adherence, self-advocacy, financial planning skills and job or college readiness. In addition, mentors also make referrals to increase access to mental health services and housing assistance.

“Thanks to funding provided by ViiV Healthcare, we have been able to offer a full-time position to one of our first younger clients who was diagnosed as HIV positive through our program; [this individual] can now share experiences with and support mentees.” – Tony Walker, Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships, AIDS Alabama

Peer health mentors are integral to the implementation of Living Out Loud. Drawing from their own experience of living with HIV, mentors have a deep understanding of the lived experiences of their peers, as well as the needs of the larger community. Mentors act as a support system and can accompany mentees to medical or service appointments, as well as provide skills-building and other guidance.

AIDS Alabama also understands that HIV is not the only aspect of people’s lives. Mentors help develop and implement plans to overcome obstacles to care, including access to transportation, mental health services and housing assistance. 

“It’s important for people who are living with HIV to hear from someone they can look up to and be able to converse with them. Mentoring is not just about telling someone what they need to do. It’s about being there for each other, whether they like it or not, and meeting them where they are. I saw this firsthand – someone I mentored was diagnosed with HIV, but through mentorship and support, he is healthy and successful in his life. Ultimately, it’s about people making their own decisions.” – Tony Walker, Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships, AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama not only aims to lower Alabama HIV rates, but also to help people living with HIV who are most in need. In its second year, Living Out Loud is gaining awareness within the community and reaching more people. In a recent HIV testing campaign, AIDS Alabama surpassed their expected goals, testing around 70 students and providing information on linkage to care for those who were diagnosed with HIV.

AIDS Alabama is devoted to ending the HIV epidemic through its expansion of mentorship service for individuals, as well as building community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through education, informal counseling and social support.

For more information about AIDS Alabama, please visit AIDSAlabama.org

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2017. HIV Surveillance Report, 2017; vol. 29. Table 1a, page 17. Published November 2018. Accessed December 19, 2018. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-report-2017-vol-29.pdf.
  2. AIDSvu.org. Local Data: Alabama Highlights. Accessed July 2019. Available at: https://aidsvu.org/state/alabama/
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Among Youth. Last updated April 10, 2019. Accessed August 7, 2019. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/age/youth/index.html.
  4. McCallaster, C., Goodrow, G. In the Deep South, Significant Percentages of People Most Impacted by HIV Live Outside Large Urban Areas Demonstrating a Need for Increased Federal Resources. Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University. Published December 2018. Accessed April 15, 2019.