I’m Not Just My Voice, I’m My Brother and Father’s Voice | Hep C Peer Navigator Story of Asia Betancourt
Asia’s story is about family, advocacy and prevention. Her experience with Hep C began when her twin brother and father were diagnosed with Hep C and died due to complications.
Even though she was an active user for many years, Asia believes she was infected with Hep C when she got a piercing six years ago.
“My doctor called me and said, ‘Asia, I know you have been clean and sober for almost 30 years, but there’s something that you’re not telling me. Asia, we have a problem. Are you doing drugs again? Did you slip? Come again and redo this test,’” she said. “I went and got the test again, and my doctor told me ‘I don’t understand this, but you have hepatitis C.’ And the only way I could have gotten it was that nose piercing I got in the Village, I actually had that place closed.”
Asia is also co-infected with HIV. Some time ago, she was given interferon-based treatment for HIV to strengthen her immune system. While successful, it was an experience she didn’t want to go through again to treat her Hep C. This delayed her treatment until new medications came out and provided an alternative to beat the virus.
“My doctor told me I had T-cells up to 700, and warned me that I wouldn’t die of HIV complications but I would die of Hep C,” she said. “It’s time to get onboard and so now we are in that process of getting ready and changing my HIV medications.”
Asia’s experience with HIV and Hep C motivated her to learn more about these epidemics and to find resources for people in her community. She became a peer navigator for Community Health Action of Staten Island (CHASI) and she participated in the IDUHA Hep C Peer Navigation Program. Her work in CHASI is part of a 20-year commitment to get needle exchange programs in Staten Island.
“I know the importance of this kind of service in Staten Island,” she said. “I know what is like to want to get high and only having a dirty needle, and people are going to pick it up and use it.”
As a peer navigator she tries to meet people where they are and let them know that she is there to help.
“It’s about protecting you and protecting others. It’s about saving lives,” she said. “This here is my dream: I worked in prevention 20 years, I’m a motivational speaker, I’ve done everything I could to stop the HIV epidemic.” Though her work as an advocate is not over, Asia will continue to be a voice in the fight against Hep C.
She believes that more work is to be done to increase awareness about Hep C, especially with the communities in the North Shore of Staten Island, a wealthier demographic that doesn’t frequent the streets where most peer navigation and outreach programs work.
Additionally, she believes that a revival of programs that distribute condoms and information at night clubs is needed in order to reach those people who sleep all day and come out at night. Television commercials for Hep C treatment are also helping to make Hep C known.
Asia will start Hep C treatment soon after this story is published, and she hopes to be part of ‘Team Cured’ in 8 to 12 weeks. She only wishes her twin brother had been alive long enough to see a cure.
If you wish to contact Asia Betancourt she can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is part of a Peer Profile project showcasing the experiences, skills, and knowledge of peer navigators in the IDUHA Hep C Peer Navigation Program.