A new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that, in Chicago, nearly one in five men who has sex with men ( MSM ) has HIV.
According to the report ( available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5937a2.htm ) , a total of 8,153 across the country participated in the 2008 survey. ( Of those, 6,562 identified as gay, 1,485 said they were bisexual and 96 classified themselves as heterosexual. ) Out of the total, 1,562 were positive. Baltimore, Md., had the highest percentage, at 38 percent; Atlanta was at the other end of the scale at 6 percent.
Among the trends noted nationally were that Blacks were disproportionately affected ( at 28 percent ) , and that the 40-49 age bracket had the highest proportion of positive individuals ( also 28 percent ) .
In Chicago, 93 out of 516 men were found to be positive. Of those 93, 49 individuals ( or 53 percent ) were unaware of their status.
Regarding the numbers, local gay men's health advocate and AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) Advocacy Director Jim Pickett put the numbers in perspective. He e-mailed Windy City Times, "The Chicago data from this national study was released by the Chicago Department of Public Health last summer. These numbers are accurateso they are not a surprise to the AIDS community here, and there has been increased energy around addressing these staggering statistics throughout our community.
"There are some important things to keep in mindimportant context that seems to go missing in much of the rather sensationalized coverage I have read. In Chicago, 88 percent of the gay/bi men and other men who have sex with men ( MSM ) who were unaware of their HIV infection had been tested for HIV in their lifetime, and 61 percent of the men who were unaware of their HIV infection had reported taking at least two HIV tests in the past two years. This means that the majority of Chicago men who tested positive are not unaware of the need to testas they have exhibited testing behavior that matches national guidelines.
"What this says to me is that annual testing is not sufficient. I would recommend that sexually active gay men get tested for HIV two to three times a year, and should get tested for syphilis that frequently as well.
"Per the president's National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the resources deployed to combat HIV in this country must match the epidemic. Since the burden of HIV/AIDS falls on gay men and other men who have sex with men, priority must be given to these men. While the dollars need to follow the epidemic, we also need to improve our prevention efforts and broaden our strategy beyond a focus on individual level change.
"We need to address structural factors such as institutionalized homophobia, poverty, unstable housing, unemployment and other sociocultural factors that limit access to care and prevention services In terms of HIV acquisition, it is not just what people do, it is where they do it and with whom. In a setting where there is a lot of HIV and little access to services, each risky behavior has a greater potential to result in HIV transmission compared to a community where the HIV burden is less and access is more universal."
"These staggering numbers illustrate the severe impact HIV is having on gay men of all colors in our community. The impact on gay black men is especially troubling, and completely unacceptable," Mark Ishaug, AFC's president/CEO, said in a statement. "We must re-double our efforts to address these appalling disparities."
AFC recently launched an initiativeknown as Project IN-CARE ( Identify, Navigate, Connect, Access, Retain and Evaluate ) that addresses disparities in infection rates by connecting people to care and meeting the unique needs of individuals living with HIV, focusing on gay men of color.