Figuring out how to get to zero in Illinois

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Getting to Zero

A goal in Illinois is zero new HIV infections and zero people living with HIV not receiving treatment by 2027.

That has those behind the initiative working to turn it into a possibility.

Gilbert Barrett said, “In my generation, people died left and right but that’s not the case anymore.”

Gilbert Barrett has been living with HIV for 18 years and says he’s working that future generations don’t have to face the same stigma and obstacles the virus carried for many like him.

Barrett said, “All my family was very accepting and my friends too but that isn’t the case for everybody.”

Part of that process means sharing what he sees to make a goal of Getting to Zero.

It’s a goal starting in 2016 by AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago Public Health involving people living with HIV, advocates and service providers. 

President CEO of AIDS Foundation of Chicago John Peller said, “Over the past decade, we’ve seen a 28 percent drop in new HIV cases across the state of Illinois.”

Similar initiatives exist around the United States. 

Peller says factors like expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act and medications have played a significant role in making the decrease possible.

He adds even with the decrease in rates; it’s not seen across the board.

Data shows an increased number of cases in African American and Latino populations in the state.

The planning process has the foundation traveling the state hosting town halls looking at what’s working and what areas fall short.

Saturday, it included a stop in Moline for their fifth of nine meetings.

“It’s really critical to get input from the community about what the local needs are for HIV prevention services as well as treatment services,” said Peller.

The Project of the Quad Cities collaborated in hosting the town hall.

They say on both sides of the river, their organization serves about 300 clients but are working to increase their services to make sure those who need care can get it.

Within the last few weeks, they saw three new people test positive.

The Project of the Quad Cities Executive Director Andrea Meirick said, “We actually have grown 20 percent in the last three to four months. That means that we’re starting to engage people that are living with HIV, that need the services in order to stay in care, to stay healthy, as well as we’re finding those living with HIV that didn’t know it.”

In the long run, care is seen as a key in helping to keep new cases down.

“When you see more people coming into care and getting access to resources that support their overall medical care. That means we see their viral suppression rates going up, which when somebody is virally suppressed that means that they have a less chance of transmitting the virus to someone else,” said Meirick.

Part of that planning in Getting to Zero has the initiative looking at prevention with a medication called PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.

Peller said, “Daily HIV medication that can be taken by individuals who are HIV negative and it’s up to 99 percent effective at preventing HIV.”

While Barrett says the side effects of the medications don’t make it right for everyone, steps need to be taken to increase information.

Barrett said, “The more that we can educate people, the better off we’re going to be.”

A plan for Getting to Zero is expected to be finalized by late 2018. 

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In Illinois: HIV Care Connect

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