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Can Chicago Officials Stop HIV & AIDS? They Are Going To Try

By Heather Cherone | September 21, 2017 3:36pm | Updated on September 22, 2017 11:46am
 The Howard Brown Health, one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) organizations, has clinics in Uptown, Lakeview, Rogers Park, Englewood and Hyde Park.
The Howard Brown Health, one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) organizations, has clinics in Uptown, Lakeview, Rogers Park, Englewood and Hyde Park.
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Howard Brown Health

CITY HALL — New HIV infections have been dropping for more than a decade in Chicago — but that's not good enough for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A new effort — dubbed "Getting To Zero" — seeks to eliminate the disease that causes AIDS entirely in 10 years by bringing together state and city health officials and 10 community organizations and hospitals, the mayor's office announced.

"We are more equipped than ever to fight HIV," Emanuel said. "With the aid of strong community health care partnerships, new treatments and the increased availability of medication to vulnerable populations we have a real chance at stopping the spread of HIV once and for all."

The effort will seek to increase use of prevention medications among those most vulnerable to the disease while working to provide 70 percent of all people living with HIV the necessary medication to reduce their viral load, which significantly reduces the risk of transmission, officials said.

By increasing the use of PrEP — the daily pill that reduces the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 90 percent — from 20 percent to 40 percent, and also increasing treatment among those living with HIV from 50 percent to 70 percent, HIV in Chicago will reach a point where it can no longer sustain itself, or "functional zero," officials said.

There have been fewer than 1,000 new HIV cases diagnosed in Chicago annually since 2013, down from a high of 1,850 new cases in 2002, officials said.

In 2015, there were 921 new HIV infections reported citywide, down only slightly from the 973 the year before.

HIV infections in 2015 were concentrated in Grand Boulevard, Uptown, Greater Grand Crossing, Chatham and Edgewater. Highest rates of those living with HIV were reported in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park.

Approximately 50 percent of those living with HIV in Chicago are on medication and unlikely to transmit the virus, which is also the national average, officials said.

City clinics in Lakeview and Austin offer PrEP to those with HIV, and officials are working to train staff to offer the medication at clinics citywide. In 2016, city officials agreed to spend $3 million to provide medication and educate Chicagoans most at risk, especially gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men of color and transgender women.

The Getting To Zero program will concentrate on the African-American community, which accounted for 54 percent of all new HIV diagnoses and 46 percent of new HIV infections among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

"Together, our state has made great strides in curbing HIV, but data telling us that one-in-two black gay men will contract HIV in their lifetime reminds us of how far we have yet to go," said Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus Executive Director Erik Glenn. "So it’s with a moral imperative that we move forward with creating a plan to capitalize on recent scientific advancements like PrEP and treatment as prevention."