By: Martin Alatorre, HIV & Biomedical Operation Manager @ JWCH | [email protected]

This December 1, 2021 World AIDS Day will be an extra special time to remember those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. It also may remind us of how far we have come as one community in ending the epidemic in the United States and around the world. Although, these past couple of years have been difficult with COVID-19, the world received a sample and a lesson on how it feels to live with a virus, live in secrecy, and test with fear of waiting for a resolution that may never come. It didn’t matter who you were, or how much money you had, COVID affected the world.

With everything being uncertain and up in the air, COVID-19 created lockdowns and other restrictions disrupting HIV testing in many countries. This led to steep drops in diagnoses and referrals to HIV treatment. Although, many places closed down, Wesley Health Centers kept its doors wide open and provided an array of services ranging from HIV prevention, treatment and PEP/PrEP Services, including primary, behavioral, and, mental health in addition to COVID-19 testing and vaccines. The immediate wake of COVID-19 brought stress to many of us. Patients with traumatic experiences, distress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc. These all show that they have been affected by the virus or having new or worsening symptoms. Our facilities brought a bit of hope to many of our established patients and a sigh of relief to new ones knowing that services are available. Along with our Ending the HIV Epidemic Campaign, we posted in every COVID-19 site information to bring awareness to get tested for COVID-19, HIV, and STI’s since some have common symptoms. “Eliminate your doubt”, get tested was outreached to everyone from Lancaster, Palmdale, Central Los Angeles, and San Gabriel Valley.

At our organization we have a mission: We don’t turn anyone away regardless of ability to pay or whether they have insurance or not. We serve the underserved and advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. Although, some don’t think it is a factor, health disparities still exist. People that have health disparities such as underinsured, uninsured, mental health problems, and lack of access to care all play a big part in minority communities. The HIV epidemic also continues to disproportionately impact the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual People of Color (LGBTQ+ POC). As a society, we live with systemic racism and homophobia. These negative stigmas takes a detrimental effect on those trying to access care. In some states, it is perfectly legal for people to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. A common example of this is within the transgender community, where many transgender people lose their jobs all based from discrimination in the work place. Fighting the stigma by educating the public about HIV will put down the discrimination for our LGBTQ+ community, and having more minority representation in health care related fields are ways to begin to solve at least some of these issues!

Anelope Valley Services – Wesley Health Centers recently has opened up three locations in Lancaster, and Palmdale to serve whomever is in need. The Antelope Valley has hired a great sexual wellness team consisting of young (LGBTQIA2+ POC). They’re skills and experiences contribute to primary care that includes sexual wellness, and Pride for health and wellness. Nereyda Felix, PrEP Navigator, has a degree in Public Health with a passion for reproductive health. Jivan Darbeau, PrEP & Linkage to Care Navigator, inspires to uplift underserved communities and connect them to various services including PrEP/PEP, behavioral health therapy, food pantry servies, substance abuse counseling, and housing resources. Amarah Martinez, PrEP Navigator, is experienced within NIH funded research studies, and is empowered and experienced working through barriers such as stigma to administer gender affirming STI testing.

These young warriors work as a team and the good work that they do is vital to the Antelope Valley. The PrEP and Linkage to Care that they provide are in the same communities they live in and serve. Staff like this are imperative in Ending the HIV Epidemic. The last several months have demonstrated their determination and strive to create safe space for AV, and Palmdale patients by providing client centered STI/ HIV/PrEP and PEP education. These Navigators have spent the last several months building trust within the Lancaster and Palmdale communities getting them one step closer in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Gay men and other men who have sex with men are 25 times higher to contract HIV than their non-gay counterparts. Wesley Health Centers has hired two PrEP staff in the San Gabriel Valley to assist in Ending the HIV Epidemic. Francisco Armenta has been a PrEP Navigator for about a year, he has always been an advocate for sexual and reproductive health since he was a teenager. He currently provides navigation at our Pasadena location. He also does live and online trainings on “Methamphetamine, HIV, and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)”. Although, HIV/AIDS impacts all women have increased in contracting HIV, especially women of color. Every week, around the world 5000 young women aged 15–24 years become infected with HIV. Linda Fierro, Outreach Coordinator is the newest addition to the PrEP Team. She brings a much needed presence to educate and bring HIV awareness to Cisgender women of color who need PEP/PrEP services. She assists in going out to the community and making the community aware of the services we provide regardless of the ability to pay. Last but not least we have our Peer Educator and volunteer, Miss Mariah Martinez who is now giving back to the community.

Bringing a team together is not easy, but it’s all worth it when you get a great team of all ages, backgrounds and work ethic to be able to come together despite barriers and obstacles in their way. It is a reminder that the time is now. Education, testing and safer sex practices are keys to ending the HIV epidemic. If everyone learns about HIV, tests to know their status, and practices safer sex, then we can see the end to the HIV epidemic. Till then we acknowledge the people, we have lost to AIDS by saying, we miss you. To the people living with AIDS, we support you. And to all the advocates and supporters, we love you.

Amarah Martinez, PrEP Navigator
C:323-400-7697 E: [email protected]

Nereyda Felix, PrEP Navigator
C:661-478-7960 E: [email protected]

Jivan Darbeau, PrEP& Linkage to Care Navigator
C:323-480-0440 E: [email protected]

Bellflower, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Lynwood:
Julio Del Cid Gomez, Linkage to Care Coordinator
C:323-480-2729 E: [email protected]

Ricardo Cuevas, PrEP Navigator
O:323-201-4516 x 3203 E: [email protected]

Francisco Armenta, PrEP Navigator
C:323-480-0546 E: [email protected]

Audrey Flores, Linkage to Care Coordinator
C:323-303-9386 E: [email protected]

Linda Fierro, PrEP Outreach Coordinator
O:323-201-4516 x 3203 E: [email protected]

Vermont/East Hollywood:
Phyllis Richardson, PrEP Lead
C:323-400-8108 E: [email protected]

Arnaldo Serrano, PrEP Navigator
C:323-695-3711 E: [email protected]

Raul Quintero, PrEP Navigator-L.A.C.C. Campus
C:323-558-3244 E: [email protected]