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Current HIV programs leave key populations underserved

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Although the number of new HIV cases have declined, there is still much work to be done in eradicating the epidemic, specifically for communities of color, a deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health told his board members Wednesday.

Deputy Commissioner David Kern explained that while the number of new transmissions of HIV is decreasing overall and is relatively low compared to the United States as a whole, there are certain sub-populations that give cause for concern. Fueling this concern is the fact that gay/bisexual men, men who have sex with men, and straight black women made up about 80 percent of HIV diagnoses in Chicago in 2014.

“The epidemic is very concentrated,” Kern said of the disproportionate statistics. Services in existence are productive, but they are not reaching the underserved populations that they should, Kern said. The department was recently awarded a $3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address just that.

In response, board members expressed concern for how cultural factors might impact the bureau’s efforts. Dr. Horace Smith stressed the importance of having “people that look like them” provide services for these targeted populations. Dr. Melanie Dreher said programs would need to configure collaborative services to meet the needs of the communities and their sub-populations.

After the meeting, Kern described the city’s efforts in dealing with the HIV epidemic as a system of lights–many of them shine brightly, but don’t connect well with each other.

“While one program might be effective in its small scope of service, if it is not working in tandem with other programs then we see just individualized benefit rather than system-wide benefit,” Kern said.

Roman Buenrostro, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s director of special projects, echoed Kern’s and Dreher’s sentiments. Existing services don’t “collaborate or work well together,” Buenrostro said. Furthermore, the lack of resources for those overly-impacted populations seems to run parallel to other resources lacking in those communities.

A list of HIV/STI testing and treatment centers that currently offer free services can be found on the department’s webpage.

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