Leslie Castillo Navia, Charlotte’s new Let’s Stop HIV Together ambassador, once had an undergraduate nursing mentor that told her to never be afraid to step outside of the box. Little did that mentor know Castillo Navia would take that advice to heart.
With that advice in mind, Castillo Navia packed her bags and began her nursing career working at a youth home in Mexico. Over the next few years she cared for patients at the youth home and then with immigrant farm workers in rural Southwest Florida. While working in these areas, Castillo Navia treated patients who had contracted HIV and began to understand the ways in which the virus impacts minority groups.
“Not only did I step outside that box, but I folded it up, threw it in the dumpster, sold most of my belongings and moved to Mexico,” said Castillo Navia. “The start of my nursing career opened my eyes to the reality of HIV—a mischievous, terribly unfair virus that has a way of disproportionately affecting marginalized populations.”
Feeling compelled to use her voice to make a difference in the fight against HIV, Castillo Navia decided to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree at UNC Charlotte to advance her career as a nurse, health educator and HIV advocate. It was during this time that she became connected with the Let’s Stop HIV Together initiative.
Let’s Stop HIV Together is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campaign that provides resources and creates partnerships aimed at stopping HIV stigma and promoting HIV testing, prevention and treatment. The CDC selected 20 cities to participate in the 2020 Together campaign based on the prevalence of HIV in those areas. In 2015, Charlotte ranked 25th in the nation for new HIV diagnoses and more than 6,630 people in Mecklenburg County were living with HIV in 2016. Hundreds of individuals are newly diagnosed each year, and stigma prevents many of these individuals from talking about HIV or seeking treatment, according to the Mecklenburg County Public Health.
As Charlotte’s 2020 Together ambassador, Castillo Navia serves as a local leader dedicated to sharing information and CDC resources about treatment, prevention and the stigma surrounding HIV. Her mission is to collaborate with the community by leading outreach activities and inspiring others to learn and act on Charlotte’s specific challenges involving HIV.
“I truly believe that each of us can make a difference in the fight against HIV, especially students and young adults!” said Castillo Navia. “This begins by starting the conversation with family and friends. All of us here at the College of Health and Human Services have a mission to improve the health of our communities, and you can help support this mission by starting the conversation and speaking out against HIV stigma so that we can Stop HIV Together.”
Castillo Navia expects to graduate from the MSN program at UNC Charlotte in December 2020.