Illinois poised to take a big step toward ending HIV epidemic

A few decades ago, the thought of preventing HIV with one pill would have been unbelievable. HB 4430 would make PrEP widely available in Illinois by increasing access through community pharmacies.

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People take a tour of AIDS Garden Chicago on the lakefront near Belmont Harbor, Wednesday morning, Dec. 1, 2021.

Visitors tour the AIDS Garden Chicago on the lakefront near Belmont Harbor, on Dec. 1, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

It has been more than 40 years since HIV was first detected in the United States. While new HIV diagnoses have declined significantly from their peak in the late 1980s, almost 38,000 Americans — more than 600 of them Chicagoans — are newly diagnosed each year. In Washington, D.C., and Springfield, two recent efforts could signal a pivotal moment in our work to end the HIV epidemic as we know it.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a medicine taken to prevent HIV infection. According to the CDC, PrEP is 99% effective against sexually-transmitted HIV infections.

In his 2023 federal budget request, President Joe Biden made good on his commitment to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030. Biden’s budget promises to accelerate efforts to achieve this goal through meaningful funding increases for long-standing domestic HIV programs, like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, and $9.8 billion in new funding for a 10-year, nationwide PrEP delivery program. This new mandatory program would provide medication and supportive services to under-insured and uninsured people and invest in jurisdictions, like Chicago, so we can better reach and serve communities in greatest need.

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Illinois legislators have also championed greater, more equitable access to PrEP this year. HB 4430 would make PrEP widely available in Illinois by increasing access through community pharmacies. The bill would allow pharmacists to dispense PrEP and post-exposure prophylaxis (medicine taken after a potential exposure to HIV to prevent infection) without a doctor’s visit. The bill passed the Illinois House and Senate, and I look forward to Gov. J.B. Pritzker signing this invaluable legislation. I applaud the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Mike Simmons, and its many co-sponsors for shepherding the legislation.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has worked since 2019 with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago on the Getting to Zero Illinois initiative, which aligns with national efforts to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

Getting to Zero Illinois details actions to reduce HIV transmission and, as importantly, support the health and wellness of people living with HIV. A primary goal is to increase the use of PrEP among people who are vulnerable to HIV.

To support this goal, CDPH invests more than $40 million in programs and services around the Chicago area, so that residents can access PrEP in all corners of the city. These services are provided by hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and community organizations. New federal funding and expanded access to PrEP through HB 4430 will bolster these services and ensure even greater access.

It was 10 years ago this summer that the FDA approved PrEP. In another 10 years, we may well look back on today as the time that we effectively ended HIV. A few decades ago the thought of preventing HIV with one pill would have been unbelievable. Getting to Zero is a goal that would have seemed unimaginable. We have a historic opportunity within our reach, and with passage of these efforts in Washington, D.C., and Springfield, I am confident we will reach that goal.

For more information about PrEP services in Chicago, contact the city’s HIV Resource Coordination Hub at 1-844-HUB-4040.

Allison Arwady, M.D.is commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

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