South Side HIV infections on rise

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The news: In June, a Walgreens store near 75th and State streets joined a pilot program that offers free HIV testing and counseling under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Behind the news: Despite a citywide decrease of 22 percent between 2010 and 2011, seven community areas on the South and Southwest sides saw an increase in the number of new HIV infections, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of the Chicago Department of Public Health data. Four of the community areas are majority-black: Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore, North Lawndale and South Chicago. The other three are in Latino, mixed or white areas.

Greater Grand Crossing, the home of the CDC’s pilot program, suffered the greatest increase—by 53 percent—in HIV diagnoses of any area between 2010 and 2011, tallying an average of 70.5 infections per 100,000 people in 2011.

Cynthia Tucker, director of Prevention and Community Partnerships for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, listed a number of social determinants that influence the high HIV rates in some neighborhoods. “There’s a lack of jobs, high poverty, a lack of housing and a lack of access to medical care,” she said. “In these places, you have to step out of the community for services.”

Rodney Johnson serves as chairman for the HIV/AIDS Ministry at the Trinity United Church of Christ—located in majority-black Washington Heights, near five of the seven community areas that saw increasing HIV diagnoses. Johnson said Trinity offered HIV testing in the past, but sessions were infrequent and “lightly attended.”

Then the Rev. Otis Moss III and the pastoral staff members started rapid-testing themselves from the pulpit. “Where the head leader goes, the people will follow,” Johnson said. Now Trinity sponsors HIV testing in church after some services and at neighborhood events like a three-on-three basketball tournament at Lowden Homes, a nearby public housing development.

“The more opportunity people have to test themselves, the more they will do it,” Johnson said. “People will learn that they’re not immune. Pastor Moss says that before we deal with HIV, we have to deal with ‘CIV: Christian Ignorant Virus.’”

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