Operation PUSH and Rev. Jesse Jackson marked World AIDS Day during PUSH's Dec. 3 community breakfast and live weekly telecast from their headquarters on Chicago's South Side.
The morning began with a breakfast discussion featuring Chicago Department of Public Health Assistant Commissioner for STD/HIV/AIDS Policy and Prevention Programs Chris Brown, Craig Johnson from Rush University Medical Center, and Rev. Doris Green from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Men and Women in Prison Ministries. Marc Loveless introduced the speakers.
Brown focused on prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and echoed the statements by national leaders, including President Obama, saying the goal is an "end to AIDS. For the first time in this fight, we're at the beginning of the end." There is still a long way to go, especially in getting access to treatment, Brown said, but there is a lot to be optimistic about.
Brown said there has been a 20 percent reduction in new cases annually in Chicago since 2000. There are approximately 25,000 people living with HIV in the city, but about 20% of those do not know it, Brown said, causing a problem when it comes to treatment and prevention. Brown added that the Chicago Department of Public Health is handing out free condoms all across the city. They want to hand out 10 million free condoms through their 170 partner agencies in the coming year.
"Care is prevention and prevention is care," Brown said.
Craig Johnson, who is also part of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, said he and his group are trying to make a difference in the lives of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people. They are pushing for more HIV testing so people can get the proper treatment and prevention education they need.
"If you don't know your status, you can't do better," Johnson said. "Early testers have options. If you take the medications, you will not die of HIV. There may be other issues, but not just HIV." If you are not tested, he said, you can't start treatment early.
Johnson also focused some of his remarks on research, including through Rush University Medical Center. He said Blacks need to get into the clinical trials ( despite the sometimes horrible history with some government trials on African-Americans ) because drugs can react differently in different bodies.
Rev. Green spoke about HIV transmission in the prisons, and said society needs to get honest and make prevention ( condoms ) available to prisoners, many who will eventually be in society, or back and forth between prison and the community.
Dr. Carl Bell spoke briefly about a new book he co-authored, Family and HIV/AIDS: Cultural and Contextual Issues in Prevention and Treatment.
The group moved downstairs for the live taping of the weekly PUSH services. AIDS was addressed briefly by Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he remembered visiting people with AIDS during his 1988 presidential campaign. He also mentioned that PUSH experienced the crisis early, when Rev. Willie Barrow's son Keith died of the disease in the mid 1980s.
Shown via tape was Dr. Eric Whitaker, executive vice president of the University of Chicago Hospitals, who works on community-based research. He said there is a need for more education and involvement of the faith community on HIV and AIDS issues. Whitaker said the focus should be on zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero deaths.
Operation PUSH is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. Their Saturday morning sermons will have special guests all month, including Rev. Al Sharpton Dec. 17.
The weekly PUSH forum airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. PUSH is located at 930 E. 50th Street in Chicago. See http://www.rainbowpush.org/
Photos by Tracy Baim