This article is part of the Positive U series, a component of U=U & U, Pride Media’s year-long initiative to get the word out about HIV prevention, treatment, and testing, especially the groundbreaking news that people living with HIV who have undetectable viral loads can no longer transmit HIV.
For many, testing positive for HIV can be a traumatic and life-changing experience. But for Atlanta-based activist and scholar Jamaan Parker, it was simply another challenge.
Remaining calm under fire is nothing new for Parker. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he was a CBRN specialist responsible for protecting the country against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. He is also a scholar and the president of the Georgia's Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society International.
In other words, Parker is used to knowing how to respond to dangerous situations and leading under pressure. These traits have proved beneficial in his role as an activist in the fight against HIV. That's perhaps why he doesn’t pull punches when he talks to local youth about the dangers of risky behavior.
“For individuals engaging in risky sex, PrEP is a great,” Parker says about the HIV prevention strategy — which when taken accordingly is up to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission. “However, it does not take the place of a condom. PrEP is meant as another preventive measure for STIs to be used along with a condom.”
Atlanta is on the frontlines of the battle against HIV, but the problems faced within the city do not exist in isolation. They are the same problems faced everywhere but with greater frequency and intensity, making the task of educating the local community about U=U (undetectable = untransmittable) more challenging.
“The major concerns for people living with HIV, everywhere and Atlanta, are problems that exist within all communities,” Parker explained, rattling off a list of key concerns — adequate housing being the biggest of all. He describes it as “the most prevalent issue” in addressing the needs of the HIV-positive community. Homelessness among young people living with HIV is another point of intersectionality in an already difficult environment.
“The lack of housing further compounds the psychological and physiological instabilities that come with living with HIV,” he explains. “With the density of Black and brown poz persons living in Atlanta, homeless poz youth represent a subgroup that direly requires resources, mainly adequate and fairly-priced housing.”
For folks living with HIV who don't have stable resources, getting on and staying on treatment and becoming undetectable (so they can no longer transmit the virus to a sexual partner) is all the more difficult.
Still, Parker is a man who backs up his words with concrete action. Currently serving on Atlanta’s Ryan White HIV Health Planning Services, he coordinates and prioritizes various government grants and funding. He’s also a member of the city’s Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program where he works to allocate funds to the growing number of people living with HIV who are experiencing homelessness.
Another area of concern for Parker is the lack of easy access to adequate healthcare resources, including not just competent healthcare professionals who can implement appropriate treatment regimens, but also the most basic element of transportation to these doctors and clinics. Public transportation and rideshare services help meet the needs in the city, but Parker’s concerns extend beyond Atlanta to more rural areas in Georgia where the distance between person and provider is usually far greater — and with minimal to no public transportation options for making the journey.
“In order to achieve 100 percent viral suppression, every individual living with HIV should have access to care, no matter where [they live],” he argues, bringing the “leave no person behind” policy of the military with him to the fight against HIV.
Like many areas in America's South, Atlanta is facing an HIV crisis that requires both immediate and sustained action. Luckily for the city and its residents, Parker is a tenacious advocate and fighter. He has not let his own status deter him from entering the battle to help those in far greater need. With warriors like Parker, Atlanta has hope to meet the ambitious goal of eliminating HIV by 2030.
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.