Melba Lara: You're listening to WBEZ. Chicago's Public Health Department recently reported that the number of new HIV diagnoses reported in 2020 was the lowest total since 1987. AIDS foundation Chicago says this is good news but that the data is also skewed. John Peller is the Foundation's president and CEO, he's here now to talk about the trends he's seeing and what work is left to do. John thanks for joining us.
John Peller: Thanks so much for having me Melba.
Melba Lara: Let's start off first, it sounds like that's good news about HIV numbers in Chicago. What is the good news here?
John Peller: So overall the news really is good about HIV and in fact we've seen a 25-30% drop in new HIV diagnoses between 2016 and 2020. So the overall trajectory of new HIV cases really is going in the right direction.
Melba Lara: A 20-30% drop over that four year period, sounds really good. But my sense is maybe we should be cautiously optimistic here. What do you think?
John Peller: Well, 2020 as I think we all know really needs a major asterisk because of COVID. We know for example that HIV testing dropped by about a third statewide. And we also, of course, didn't engage in medical care in the same ways as we did in previous years. So we think that there are a number of folks who maybe just didn't get diagnosed in 2020 with HIV and those numbers didn't get reported. So we are likely to see a small jump in 2021 when we get those numbers, but we think that the overall trajectory will still hold strong.
Melba Lara: Let's dive a little deeper into the numbers that we do have. Who is being disproportionately affected by New HIV diagnoses right now?
John Peller: Unfortunately, we're still seeing the majority of new HIV cases among people of color and in fact, black people in Chicago represent about 55% of new HIV diagnoses and Latinx people represent another 20-25%. We are also seeing very strong disparities unfortunately in the reduction in new HIV cases. And so while we saw a 30% drop in new HIV cases between 2016 and 2020 among black and Latinx people, there was a 50% drop in HIV cases among white people.
Melba Lara: What is the AIDS foundation Chicago doing to kind of work with the HIV epidemic in the communities that are being affected?
John Peller: The AIDS foundation Chicago is proud to lead along with our city and state Health Department, the Getting to Zero Illinois strategy, which is focused on ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030. The goal of Getting to Zero Illinois is to increase by 20% points or more, the number of people who are taking PrEP, which is an HIV prevention medication. And increase by 20% or more, the number of people who are taking HIV medications and are virally suppressed. And we know that when folks are virally suppressed, they can't transmit HIV to their partners in the community, in addition to benefiting from the amazing power of today's HIV medications. So, ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois is really possible, and we think we're continuing to make good progress in that direction,
Melba Lara: John, thanks for updating us on these numbers and what they mean and this vital work.
John Peller: You're so welcome. Thank you Melba.
Melba Lara: John Peller is the president and CEO of AIDS Foundation Chicago. This is WBEZ.
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