Jackson, MS, has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the United States. Like many cities in the South, the epidemic concentrates in Jackson’s Black community, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Since 2018, GMHC has been working with Jackson area organizations to expand capacity around comprehensive HIV prevention programs. Partnerships to date have included the Mississippi AIDS Education and Training Center with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, MLM Center for Health, Education and Equity and My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. These collaborations are part of the Deep South Project, funded by a grant from the Henry Van Ameringen Foundation.
The Deep South Project leverages GMHC’s nearly four decades of experience and expertise in developing HIV prevention programs for high-risk communities. “GMHC supplies general guidance on program parameters, but our local partner organizations and communities take the lead on community mobilization and implementation,” said Nelly Maina, director of technical assistance and capacity building for GMHC’s ACRIA unit.
In 2018, GMHC partnered with the Mississippi AIDS Education Training Center to conduct a health educators conference focusing on providing services and care to young Black MSM. The audience consisted of both the community and providers discussing how to create environments that were inclusive of and welcoming to young Black MSM. In 2019, GMHC collaborated with My Brother’s Keeper on their annual Jackson Black Pride celebration, which included a Health Summit on HIV prevention. Nearly 200 people registered for the Summit, which was geared toward young Black MSM and focused on HIV risk and PrEP. The Summit also addressed the role of social determinants of health such as employment, financial literacy, and mental health, as they impact the risk level of acquiring HIV.
In working with My Brother’s Keeper on the 2019 Health Summit, GMHC offered support and resources for speakers, educational materials, and evaluation. GMHC staff also led multiple presentations to include sessions Living a Healthy Sexual Life, which focused on creating a safe sexual experience and Trans-positivity: Living our Best Life, which provided tools and resources for persons who are transgender to live a happy healthy life.
This year, GMHC will work with Dr. Mauda Monger, chief operating officer of My Brother’s Keeper, and Mississippi colleges and universities to host “The Boys at Brunch” webinar series for young MSM of color. The webinars will focus on HIV prevention and other topics that were identified in a needs assessment including mental health, trauma, financial literacy, and COVID-19.
This year’s broader approach emphasizes an awareness that HIV is not strictly a health issue. Many of the same issues that fuel the HIV epidemic in Black and Brown communities in New York City also fuel the epidemic in Jackson. These issues include poverty, health disparities, and LGBTQ+ and AIDS stigma.
Dr. Monger has led the work with GMHC on the Deep South Project. She said a significant focus of their HIV prevention programs has been to build trust with the community. “We’ve proven that if you can find and work with stakeholders in the community, you can have an impact on that community,” she said. “This is critical to building momentum for your programs.”
GMHC’s expertise in HIV prevention is widely known within the HIV/AIDS services space. GMHC hopes to continue its work in the deep south by building partnerships and bringing its technical assistance expertise to other communities across the country.
“We’d like to spread our wings and support more organizations across the U.S. through technical assistance on a variety of HIV/AIDS and health-related issues,” said Maina. “In particular, we see opportunity for providing training programs to non-clinical health providers on HIV/AIDS and related topics including aging, MSM, and reducing barriers to care for transgender people.”