SPRINGFIELD – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, and actress/advocate Gloria Reuben (“ER”, “Time Cop”, “Nick of Time”) kicked off the 15 Annual HIV/STD Conference: “15 Years of Creating Partnerships and Inspiring Hope” this morning at the Hilton Springfield Hotel. Approximately 600 healthcare professionals, counselors, public health officials and social workers are expected to attend the three-day conference. The conference will allow participants to network, share ideas and gain further knowledge about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) to enhance their work. The conference is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois Public Health Association.
“HIV/AIDS continues to have the greatest impact on men who have sex with men (MSM), with African Americans being the most disproportionately affected,” said Dr. Whitaker. “Numerous gains have been made in HIV/AIDS treatments, but there are still advancements we need to work toward. This year’s conference will review all of these issues to help prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS and STD’s.”
This year’s conference speakers include Dr. Mervyn Silverman, former president and spokesperson of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and current chairman of its Global Initiatives Committee; Dr. Kurt Organista, researches HIV/AIDS prevention with Mexican/Latino migrant laborers; Dr. Thomas Farley, researched and published articles on HIV/STDs prevention; Pernessa Seele, founder and chief executive officer of The Balm in Gilead Inc. (organization addressing life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS); and Todd Ahlbery, creator of “Meth”, a documentary film illuminating the crystal methamphetamine culture within the gay community.
“This conference brings together the state’s top public health professionals and frontline staff fighting HIV/AIDS everyday in communities across our state,” said Mark Ishaug, AIDS Foundation of Chicago executive director. “HIV prevention and care is a rapidly evolving field; these learning opportunities ensure we stay focused and current on the best strategies to curb this epidemic.”
Conference topics include:
• Rural MSM (men who have sex with men)
• Labor Migration & STD/HIV/AIDS: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally
• State of Emergency in the Black MSM Community
• Sexuality, Social Norms and STD Prevention
• Bisexuality: The Trends Among Teens
• Crystal Methamphetamines
• Preventing Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Re-infections: Medical and Social Strategies
• Aging with HIV
• HIV and Women’s Health
• Syphilis Transmission, Staging, Treatment, Complications & Co-infection with HIV
During 2005, a total of 50,559 cases of chlamydia were reported in Illinois making it the most frequently reported infectious disease. Females accounted for 75 percent (37,672 of 50,559) of reported cases and adolescents 15 to 19 years of age were disproportionately affected accounting for 34 percent (17,294 of 50,559) of all reported cases. IDPH encourages health care providers to test all sexually active females 15 to 24 years of age at least annually for chlamydia. The Department, in collaboration with, school based health centers, family planning clinics, adult and juvenile correctional centers and other agencies serving females at increased risk for chlamydia infection, performed more than 220,000 tests for chlamydia in order to halt disease transmission by identifying and treating infected persons.
IDPH ensures STD diagnostic and treatment services are accessible throughout Illinois; monitors and responds to sexually transmitted disease trends ensuring that persons infected with STDs receive appropriate treatment, counseling and referral; conducts screening programs; funds innovative community based initiatives to prevent and contain STDs such as the Champaign-Urbana Health Department's Mobile Health Vans, the Howard Brown Health Center's Out Reach Testing and Education Services in suburban Cook County; provides vaccinations for hepatitis A and B to persons attending STD clinics; and provide technical assistance and training to health care providers regarding STD testing, treatment and follow-up.
There has been a recent rise in syphilis cases in Illinois, especially in the Chicago area. The increase in infectious syphilis is disproportionately affecting males. Men account for 91 percent of all syphilis reported cases last year, and men self-reporting as men who have sex with men represent 76 percent of all cases among males.
“I am very concerned about this increase in syphilis because untreated syphilis can lead to serious long-term complications and death. Also, persons infected with infectious syphilis can more easily acquire or transmit the HIV. During 2005, 52 percent of cases of infectious syphilis among men who have sex with men were co-infected with HIV. Persons infected with both syphilis and HIV also are more likely to develop complications from their syphilis and HIV infection. IDPH recommends all sexually active persons infected with HIV should be tested for syphilis and other STDs at least annually,” said Dr. Whitaker.
As of August 2006, there were 30,408 (14,878 HIV, 15,530 AIDS) people living with HIV/AIDS in Illinois.
Currently in Illinois the highest mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS is men who have sex with men. African Americans remain the ethnic group most affected by HIV/AIDS.
To decrease the racial disparity, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich launched the BASUAH (Brothers And Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS) campaign on September 15, 2005 to address the increase of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. BASUAH focuses on education, prevention and testing and targets African Americans to specifically address the increase in HIV/AIDS cases reported within that community.
On element of BASUAH is the Wellness on Wheels mobile health van. Over the last year the van has stopped in 57 locations across the state. Visitors to the Wellness van can receive health screenings including HIV, Hepatitis B and C, prostate screenings as well as blood pressure and cholesterol tests. People visiting the van receive their HIV testing results within half an hour because of HIV/AIDS rapid testing rules the State adopted on February 3, 2006. Approximately 2,300 HIV tests have been administered in the Wellness van with additional tests being performed at outside locations.
The State has also worked with African American churches and their youth ministries to establish peer networks that encourage HIV testing as part of the BASUAH campaign. Approximately 70 congregations have distributed BASUAH literature.
Programs targeting communities of color, which include African Americans, Hispanics and Asians, are a top priority of the state’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. For fiscal year 2007, the Governor has budgeted $3.2 million for AIDS Prevention through IDPH’s Centers for Minority Health Services.
Gov. Blagojevich boosted funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) by $2.5 million in fiscal year 2007 to total $41 million in order to allow more people with HIV or AIDS, who meet eligibility requirements, to be served and to increase access to life sustaining medicines.
Gov. Blagojevich also signed House Bill 4302, sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), which adds HIV/AIDS to the list of diseases covered under the Illinois Cares Rx program, which provides prescription drug assistance to low-income seniors and persons with disabilities with certain illnesses or conditions.
For more information call the Illinois HIV/AIDS and STD hotline 1-800-243-2437 during the following hours: M-F 9:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. Weekends 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. or visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/