Monday, September 27, 2010

AFC Recommends More Frequent HIV Testing for Gay Men

On this, National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) calls for more frequent HIV testing among gay men and a re-doubling of efforts to combat the epidemic among this most-impacted population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on September 23 that approximately one in five gay men in 21 American cities are HIV-positive, and 44% were unaware of their status. Chicago released its data from this study in July 2009 and found that a little more than 17% of gay men surveyed were found to be HIV-positive.

CDC researchers tested a total 8,153 gay/bi men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who participated in the 2008 National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System. They found the highest infection rate, 28 percent, was among black gay/bi and other MSM. Eighteen percent of Hispanic gay/bi and other MSM were infected, as were 16 percent of white men.

In Chicago, where a total of 570 men were tested, HIV prevalence among black gay men was 30.1 percent - more than twice the rate of white gay men (11.3 percent) and Hispanic gay men (12 percent). At the time of the survey, 50 percent were unaware of their positive status.

“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,” said Mark Ishaug, AFC President/CEO. “We must re-double our efforts to address these appalling disparities.”

Since the CDC release, much of the coverage has neglected to provide important context. In Chicago, 88 percent of the gay/bi men and other MSM who were unaware of their HIV infection had been tested at least once for HIV in their lifetime and 61 percent of those men had reported taking at least two HIV tests in the past two years.

“The good news is that a majority of gay men are getting tested annually, a clear illustration of their concern. However, these data reveals that annual testing is not sufficient. AFC recommends that sexually active gay men with multiple or anonymous partners get tested every three to six months, and should get tested for syphilis at that frequency as well,” said Jim Pickett, AFC Director of Advocacy.

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/bi men and other MSM, more must be done to meet the needs of this under-served population.

“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,” said David Ernesto Munar, AFC Vice President. “In the fight against HIV in Chicago and across the country, we need to focus on gay men and fighting homophobia. We need to increase testing frequency, we need to ensure access to appropriate care and treatment, and we need to go beyond individual level strategies and address bigger, systemic challenges that contribute to the disparities we are seeing.”

AFC recently launched an initiative—known as Project IN-CARE (Identify, Navigate, Connect, Access, Retain and Evaluate) — that addresses these disparities by linking people to care and meeting the unique needs of individuals living with HIV, focusing on gay men of color. A collaborative effort , partner agencies include AFC, Brothers Health Collective, Howard Brown Health Center, Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center and Test Positive Aware Network and is funded by a 1.8 million dollar National AIDS Foundation Positive Charge grant for three-years.

As of July 2010, the Chicago Department of Public Health reported 20,871 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, 79 percent male and 21 percent female. Blacks made up 53 percent of these cases, followed by 27 percent among whites and 17 percent among Hispanics. Gay/bi men and other MSM made up the majority of cases – 56 percent, followed by injection drug users (19 percent) and heterosexuals (17 percent.) Because it is estimated that 21 percent of individuals who are HIV-positive are not aware of their status, Chicago could have as many as 26,419 people living with HIV/AIDS.

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