An Interview with an HIV Outreach Specialist

Elias Martinez is an HIV Outreach Specialist with Westside Family Health Center (WFHC), a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides health care and health education to more than 10,000 underserved women, men and children each year.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your position?

A: I’m an Outreach Specialist, who specializes in HIV.  I am an HIV Basic II Certified Counselor and facilitator of the Popular Opinion Leader (POL) group Intervention program, “Man Up”. My main responsibility is to educate the community on the facts, myths, misconceptions, and all things related to HIV.

Q: What is the Man Up! Program?

A: The Man Up! Program is WFHC’s version of the Division of HIV and STD Programs (DHSP) intervention program, POL. The concept of Man Up!, is to target and recruit leaders of social groups and train them on HIV prevention.  In turn, those leaders will educate their respective social groups on HIV prevention.  Our end goal is to reduce the number of new HIV cases through a grass roots movement.

Q: Do you believe there is still a lot of misconception out there around HIV and AIDS?

A: Yes, through my program I still encounter several men who have sex with men (MSM) that have concerns about HIV.  It is evident that there is a great need for my Man Up! Program because even over three decades later, a major portion of our population lack information about HIV. There is also a need to spread the word about two programs out there aiming to protect high risk individuals from the dangers of contracting HIV. They are post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) services. PEP and PrEP are a series of pills that high-risk individuals can take either before they are exposed to HIV (PrEP) or after they are exposed to HIV (PEP). PrEP and PEP help reduce the chances of contracting HIV.

Q: Tell me the importance of having an HIV Awareness Month.

A: As I stated before, the fact that I still come across individuals, particularly MSM, who know little to nothing around HIV is alarming.  The only way to continue to properly educate individuals about HIV is to continue keeping it in the forefront of people’s minds.  HIV Awareness Month helps organizations such as WFHC to spread the word about all things related to HIV. Having correct information on display will help to end myths and misconceptions that promote phobias about HIV.