With the right approach, we can end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Illinois

The Getting to Zero plan invests $10 million to address to end HIV transmission in the coming years. We must address the drivers of HIV: housing and employment insecurity, the impact of HIV-related stigma, and systemic racism.

SHARE With the right approach, we can end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Illinois
Rainbow ribbons adorn trees during the grand opening of the AIDS Garden Chicago on Thursday.

Rainbow ribbons adorn trees during the recent grand opening of the AIDS Garden Chicago. Getting to Zero Illinois is the state’s plan to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For more than four decades, HIV has and continues to impact communities in every corner of this state, from Chicago to Carbondale. In the early days of the epidemic, unimaginable loss was the default response and activism buoyed by resilience was our only tool to combat HIV/AIDS and the stigma that ensued.

Fast forward past new treatment options (pre-exposure prophylaxis, called PrEP, and Undetectable=Untransmittable, or U=U) and ending the HIV epidemic is within reach.

Unveiled in May 2019, the Getting to Zero Illinois plan is built on increasing access to and uptake of PrEP and retaining more people in care who are living with HIV. But it shouldn’t stop there. Our response to the epidemic should be rooted in how we address the drivers of HIV, which include housing and employment insecurity, the impact of HIV-related stigma, and systemic racism.

There are those who will question the motivation of leading with race to stem the tide of HIV in Illinois. Our response is this: Black and Latino communities comprise nearly 75% of new HIV diagnoses in Illinois, at 50% and 23% respectively. As a Black gay man living with HIV, I believe we must focus our efforts on ending the epidemic in these communities, the same communities shouldering the brunt of the epidemic. Simply put, we won’t get to zero without doing so.

More needs to be done to continue moving Getting to Zero Illinois forward. Through tremendous advocacy, the General Assembly included a historic $10 million in fiscal year 2023 funding to develop and implement community-centered programs outlined in the Getting to Zero plan.

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We believe these funds should include housing and wraparound supportive services, HIV-related stigma reduction programs, and an early intervention program to identify people living with HIV who are not currently in care, among others. The nature of the ongoing HIV emergency among Black and Latino communities calls for swift action to get these much-needed funds out the door and into community without delay. 

With strong cooperation from state health officials and grounded in community, we can move closer to our goal of reaching zero new HIV transmissions by 2030 and ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois. 

Timothy Jackson, director of government relations, AIDS Foundation Chicago

Make men responsible for unwanted pregnancies

The religious right has won a decades long crusade to criminalize abortion. But it has done nothing to decrease the need for that service and in fact, seems to also want to criminalize birth control. We badly need balance.

There should be a determined effort to minimize the need for abortions, and one way to do so is to make men fully responsible for unwanted pregnancies. Every birth to an unwed woman should require identification of the father, and obligate him to provide full financial support for that child, including college tuition, if sought, until that child reaches legal age.

Men who know that a pregnancy will substantially burden their future life might be more careful about unprotected intercourse. It’s time to balance the books – men must be financially responsible.

Gilbert Liss, Chicago

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