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Gamechanger: Jillian Lucas Baker

By KYW Newsradio community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Dr. Jillian Lucas Baker is working to cut the infection rate of HIV and AIDS.

"People can live with it (and) manage it, but it can still be preventable," she notes.

Originally from the Bronx and a graduate of Penn, Temple, and Drexel, Baker decided during a class she took in undergraduate school on human sexuality (taught by world renowned researcher Dr. Loretta Jemmott) to focus her own research on HIV and AIDS.

"I thought, whatever she's doing I want to do," recalls Baker.  "And she took me under her wing."

With Jemmott's help, Baker, who now teaches at La Salle University, homed in on HIV prevention in minority communities.  "African-Americans suffer the burden of HIV," she says.

The Centers for Disease Control recently released findings that the number of AIDS deaths among African-Americans is down more than 20 percent.  And that sits in stark contrast to the number of HIV infections.  More than a million people in the US now live with HIV, with African-Americans making up a large portion of those infected.

"We still have a lot of work to do in the African-American community," says Baker, "and I want to do my part with that."

In the past, African-Americans have been underrepresented in medical studies, yet research has shown that minority communities are willing to participate.  Baker has taken advantage of that by rolling up her sleeves and using her charisma, with her counseling and psychology background, to convince couples of color affected by HIV to participate in research studies.

"We were hitting the streets, getting inundated in the HIV community in Philadelphia," says Baker, who was able to convince couples -- one member of whom had HIV and one who didn't -- to participate. "To get people to participate, you really have to connect with them," she notes.

She also worked on a study of African-American father interactions with their sons on safe sex practices.   Baker, herself a mother of two, went into barbershops in West Philadelphia, conducting a total of six focus groups, each with 30-40 pairs of fathers and sons, to determine how fathers could better help their sons avoid HIV.

"I want to be a part of helping families help their children get the knowledge to prevent HIV," says Baker.


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( Dr. Jillian Lucas Baker, front row far right, at Philly Cuts barbershop, with some of the participants of a focus group she conducted there about avoiding HIV. Photo provided by Philly Cuts)


Baker has also helped to implement prevention programs in Philadelphia public schools.  She says she thinks of her three-year-old twins whenever she needs motivation.  Her goal: to change the game on HIV for good.

"I'm going to be out there," she says.  "I'm going to keep pressing and keep working."

Hear the extended interview with Dr. Jillian Lucas Baker in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 12:51)...


Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter: @cherrigregg

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