Marissa Miller has been involved with public health work, specifically HIV, for the last 12 years. Miller first tested positive for HIV in 1990. Currently, she is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project manager for the Broadway Youth Center, which is a program of Howard Brown Health based in Chicago.
Miller told Plus that Howard Brown’s mission is “to eliminate the disparities in healthcare experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.”
For her, the BYC program “is to improve the quality of life experienced by LGBTQ, homeless, and other underserved youth (ages 12 to 24) through the provision of youth-centered integrated health care and social services. Our main focus is basic needs, youth empowerment, and to organize/navigate systemic issues, [as well as] healing and relationship building.”
Miller's panel at USCA was about connecting the dots between harm reduction and prevention, and connecting the dots for people of color and poor folks with the right agencies so they may be self-sufficient if transitioning from a life of sex work, drug addiction or homelessness — often all three simultaneously.
“For decades, we as advocates, policy makers, and health professionals, have been trying to figure out a magical system that will prevent HIV and ensure those who are HIV-positive stay adherent to medication. However, one of the biggest misconceptions is that HIV has to be the number one concern in the lives of those affected by HIV, when in fact it is not! Everyone is multi-faceted, navigating complex systems in all areas of life,” Miller says.
Recognizing the social determinants of health that everyone is vulnerable to needs to be a bigger priority for those providing HIV care. “We must recognize that these social determinants exist and place funding streams in place to counteract and address them," she says. "There is also a misconception within academia and health professionals that the existing systems have all the right answers, without even consulting with the ones whose lives are most impacted. We then base our interventions, research and treatment accordingly. "
She continues: "Our personal opinions, or even data-driven opinions, cannot always take priority over the day to day concerns of people who are HIV-positive. We have to allow the person to tell us how we can help them and in doing so, the concept of 'treatment as prevention' is shaped by individually tailored approaches that are person-centered and reduce harm.”
Watch the video of her speaking below: