Metro-East News

Illinois foundation seeks your help to end HIV infections

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago will have a “Getting to Zero” town hall Wednesday in Collinsville. The campaign’s name, “Getting to Zero,” speaks to the initiative’s goal of zero new HIV infections in Illinois and zero people living with HIV who are not on treatment.

John Peller, president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, says the group has been working with partners across the state to get Illinois to zero new HIV cases by 2027. Some metro-east organizations that have been active in the campaign include the St. Clair County Health Department and Bethany Place.

“We’re mirroring projects that have been kicked off in a number of other states like New York and Arizona,” Peller said. “These projects are harnessing the tremendous successes in sustaining reductions in new cases and connect more people living with HIV to care.”

At the town hall, campaign officials will gather information and ideas from the Collinsville-area community on the region’s current state of HIV, access to healthcare and other issues the area faces.

Peller said, “In the state of Illinois, since 2006 to 2015, there was a 26 percent drop in new HIV cases, which is really significant.”

“In the metro-east area, there was a 30 percent decline in new HIV cases over the same period — actually beating the state-wide average, which is really impressive,” Peller said. “Our challenge and goal is to continue those declines to further reduce new HIV cases.”

Advances that have led to a drop in HIV infections and treatment for those infected include: Illinois implementing the Affordable Care Act, new daily HIV medications that reduce the risk of infection when taken consistently and the power of HIV treatment itself.

“The fact that Illinois has implemented the Affordable Care Act, particularly the Medicaid expansion, has resulted in 12,000 people with HIV getting health insurance coverage,” Peller said. “That’s one in three people living with HIV in the state.”

“What that means in practical terms is that people with HIV are able to get medications for any conditions they might have,” he said. “Previously, people could get HIV medications. But if they have diabetes, good luck getting insulin. Or if they have mental health needs, good luck getting mental health medicines or anti-psychotics. The Affordable Care Act is critical for reaching these people and expanding their access to health care services.”

Peller said there are now daily medications, that when taken consistently, are up to 99 percent effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection. Also, modern treatments “virally suppress” those living with HIV so they cannot transmit the disease sexually.

“That they cannot transmit HIV sexually to their partners is a really radical statement. This is incredible news for the HIV epidemic,” Peller said. “Our challenge is to harness these developments to impact new HIV cases and also to make sure that people living with HIV are maintained in care.”

Heidi Wiechert: 618-239-2500, @BND_HeidiW

Want to go?

  • What: “Getting to Zero” town hall
  • When: 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31
  • Where: Doubletree Hotel, 1000 Eastport Plaza Drive, Collinsville