What you don’t know can hurt you.
That’s why Jamal Jones has made it his mission to research and find effective ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs—particularly in urban, African-American communities.
“Within the black community—and specifically among black men—many undergo HIV testing late,” he said. “That means that once they get tested, they could be diagnosed with advanced stages of AIDS and could have been contagious for a long time, infecting others in the community.”
Jones, who has earned his Ph.D. in epidemiology, created a social media campaign to encourage young, black men in Atlanta to get tested for the virus as part of his dissertation. The Courage2Test campaign included several social events in and around Georgia State’s campus involving student groups such as Greek Life, and community nonprofits that specialize in HIV testing.
“I thought if students saw their friends and influencers engaging in the events and getting tested, they’d be more inclined to get tested themselves,” Jones said.
While small, the campaign was successful. His study showed an uptick in the number of students who reported getting tested for HIV during Courage2Test’s three-month run. During the Greek Block Party event alone, 31 students got tested. Overall, his study found the percentage of students surveyed who reported they had been tested for HIV rose from 40 percent before the campaign started to 62 percent afterward.
Recently, Jones started working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a two-year fellowship in the epidemiology branch of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. There, he helps evaluate how well health care providers and public health workers are doing to increase access to HIV-preventing drugs among people who are most at risk for getting infected with the virus.
“I want to be part of figuring out how to address the health disparities that we see in HIV intervention,” he said.
—Story and photo by Kathleen Baydala Joyner