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AIDS: Chicago stories--Past, future fighting HIV/AIDS, Lessons for nonprofit executives at USCA
by AIDS Foundation of Chicago

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This week, the U.S. Conference on AIDS will be held in Chicago for the first time. Chicagoans have been on the vanguard of the fight against HIV/AIDS since the crisis began in the early 1980s. As a result, hundreds of grassroots efforts and projects were spurred locally in response to this crisis. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) recounts and acknowledges 30 homegrown accomplishments—including many of its own—in Chicago's fight against HIV/AIDS.

1. ACT UP Chicago

With leadership from Lori Cannon, Danny Sotomayor, Paul Adams, Ferd Eggan, Deborah ( Debbie ) B. Gould and many others, activist groups such as Chicago for AIDS Rights ( CFAR ) and later the local chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power ( ACT UP Chicago ) played an instrumental role in shaping early local responses to the AIDS crisis. With active members from 1988 to 1995, ACT UP Chicago was best known for its widely covered direct actions at City Hall and Cook County Hospital ( now John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital ) , which resulted in increased city funding for HIV/AIDS services, including expanded services for women.

2. African American AIDS Response Act

Illinois was among the first states to enact legislation to address the HIV crisis in the African American community. As a result of the efforts of Rep. Connie Howard ( D-Chicago ) and State Sen. Kimberly Lightford ( D-Maywood ) , among others, Illinois passed into law the African American HIV/AIDS Response Act. The law—which increased voluntary HIV testing in state prisons by 475%—institutionalized and strengthened Illinois' response to HIV among African Americans.

3. Campaign to End AIDS ( C2EA ) in Chicago

Caravans of AIDS advocates snaked across America in 2005, picking up dedicated volunteers along the way to converge on Washington, D.C., in a stunning show of force. In Chicago, C2EA spurred the first ever HIV demonstration on the Magnificent Mile, showcasing local AIDS advocacy efforts.

4. Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus

Established in 2005, the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus was formed to improve the lives of Black gay and bisexual men through creative and collaborative programming, including HIVtesting and risk reduction services.

5. Chicago Female Condom Campaign

Once described as "crinkly," "awkward," and "uncomfortable," the female condom has enjoyed a renaissance with the debut of an updated, quieter and more pleasurable barrier device for use by receptive partners of vaginal and anal intercourse. To increase public awareness and demand for this new HIV-prevention option, Chicago advocates launched an award-winning website and educational campaign in 2009.

6. Chicago's Global Projects

We don't like to keep our best ideas to ourselves in Chicago, so we've gone global. From China to Kenya, Rwanda to Vietnam, the best of Chicago has gone global through prevention initiatives, health education, medical services, economic development, and basic necessities—all to help improve the lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS beyond our city's, and nation's borders.

7. Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered ( LGBT ) Health

The Chicago Office of LGBT Health focuses on issues such as smoking, breast cancer, mental health, substance abuse treatment and HIV—and it is one of the few of its kind left in the nation. Among its greatest accomplishments is the production of a series of entertaining and educational films called Kevin's Room, which highlight the lives and health concerns of Black

gay men. Although the office's leadership position is currently vacant, advocates hope that the

Office of LGBT Health—which is funded solely by city resources—survives the upcoming

austerity measures of the new mayoral administration.

8. Connect to Protect ( C2P )

As a coalition of service providers and advocates, C2P creates and conducts community mobilization interventions aimed at reducing HIV rates among young people. These interventions currently focus on changing structural elements of the community that are believed to be associated with HIV acquisition and transmission. Innovative structural interventions are conceived, designed, implemented and evaluated with the assistance of the C2P staff from the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

9. Employment Readiness

Thanks to HIV medications, people living now with the virus often have the drive to work. Unfortunately, they do not always have the necessary skills. Chicago House's I-4 program teaches basic job-readiness skills and—here's the "icing on the cake"—educates students to be skilled workers through an internship at the organization's earned-income venture, Sweet Miss Giving's Bakery. The cupcakes are delicious … and so is a paycheck.

10. The Faces of AIDS

In 2000, before "multimedia" was cool, The Faces of AIDS: Living in the Heartland debuted as a book, a photography exhibit, and a video project to document the experiences of people in America's heartland whose lives were impacted by HIV/AIDS. Developed by the Chicago Department of Public Health and supported by the Illinois Department of Public Health in collaboration with 10 Midwestern states, The Faces of AIDS was viewed across America and helped raise awareness about the epidemic.

11. Faith Responds to AIDS ( FRA )

Fire and brimstone get a dose of tolerance and education in African-American churches, thanks to FRA. A printed manual, regular training sessions and an annual conference give African-American churches in Chicagoland the tools they need to spread the gospel of HIV prevention.

12. Get Up and MOVE!

Want to bike 200 miles to Wisconsin and back? Test Positive Aware Network's AIDS Run/Walk Chicago and Ride for AIDS Chicago ( RFAC ) have you covered. Want to do a triathlon? Run a full ( or half ) marathon? Bike to a baseball game in Milwaukee? Or run and walk in Chicago? Chicago's Team to End AIDS ( T2EA ) also has you covered—all going toward a worthy cause.

13. Grassroots Advocacy

The Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy ( IL ASAP ) is a network of 15 AIDS advocates throughout Illinois who are working to develop, nurture and support statewide HIV policy and advocacy. IL ASAP has brought new visibility to HIV in the state—along with hundreds of new advocates to the cause—and is running a year-long HIV anti-stigma awareness campaign and fundraiser.

14. Housing First

A randomized controlled trial, known as the Chicago Housing and Health Project ( CHHP ) , provided empirical evidence in favor of using a "housing first" approach to improve the lives of chronically ill homeless populations, including those living with HIV/AIDS. The results of this cost-benefit study, which were published in the June 2008 issue of Chicago-based and internationally recognized Journal of the American Medical Association, established that AIDS housing significantly reduces healthcare costs and helps keep viral loads low.

15. International Rectal Microbicide Advocates ( IRMA )

Working to expand the array of available and accessible HIV-prevention options, IRMA has championed the development of effective topical microbicides for vaginal and rectal use. With robust advocacy, education, and monitoring by more than 1,000 advocates on six continents, the devoted IRMA advocates are raising the bar on HIV prevention through science and research.

16. Making the System Run Smoothly

Coordinate, communicate, and collaborate—that's what we do best in Chicago. In 1985, Chicago's HIV service leaders created what is still, today, America's only centralized, coordinated, multicounty HIV case-management system. The system unites 14 separate funding streams and 150 case managers at 34 agencies. Housing, transportation, emergency assistance and other services were added into the mix to create a one-stop, streamlined, duplication-free system.

17. Men of Color Collaborative for Health Care Alternatives ( MOCHA )

Led by the South Side Help Center, MOCHA was a Chicago initiative comprising eight community-based organizations that aimed to improve healthcare delivery for African-American and Latino men who had sex with men and who were, consequently, at risk of HIV infection. MOCHA paired minority community-based agencies with local, regional and national organizations to promote organizational stability and capacity building.

18. Overdose Prevention

The Chicago Recovery Alliance ( CRA ) , which created one of the Midwest's first sterile syringe access programs, pioneered services to teach injection drug users to save friends and family members from overdose. Thousands of people in the Chicagoland area are alive today thanks to CRA's recognition that the lives of injectors are worth saving.

19. Paving the Way for a Stable Re-entry

Too often, people with HIV leave prison or jail and melt into the community, never to receive HIV treatment or needed community resources. Thanks to funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health, inmates with HIV are linked to services before they leave prison or jail, receiving access to medical care, transitional housing, substance abuse treatment, employment, and family reunification and support services. The program saves the state's correctional system more than $1 million annually through reduced recidivism.

20. Perinatal HIV Prevention

Mother-to-child HIV transmission is nearly eradicated in Illinois thanks to such legislators as Rep. Mary Flowers ( D-Chicago ) , who championed legal reforms to assist as many as 99.98% of pregnant women in learning their HIV status. For HIV-positive moms, a robust system of perinatal case management and 24/7 hotline access ensure linkage to care and prevention services and dramatically reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission. Recognized as a national model, Illinois' HIV perinatal safety net grew out of the Maternal Child Health/HIV Integration Special Project of National Significance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Mother-Infant Rapid Intervention at Delivery ( MIRIAD ) project and the statewide Perinatal Rapid Testing Implementation Initiative.

21. PA: Positively Aware

Published in Chicago by the Test Positive Aware Network, PA has been a beacon of hope, activism, and, most importantly, knowledge for people with HIV/AIDS and their families, caregivers, and friends since 1990. Although early issues of PA focused on giving solace to the dying, today's publication features the latest tips on medications, side effects and living in ( uneasy ) harmony with the virus.

22. Project PrEPare

Designed to explore the acceptability and feasibility of pre-exposure prophylaxis ( PrEP ) , Project PrEPare is adding the perspectives of young gay and bisexual men to a greater understanding of PrEP as part of a comprehensive package of HIV-prevention services.

23. Public Health Boot Camp

Imagine—in one week, you can become a more skilled public health professional. A partnership between AFC and the DePaul University Master of Public Health Program makes it happen every year for up to 15 leaders at HIV/AIDS organizations. Want to improve your organization's HIV programs and prevention services? Lessons in the core concepts of public health science, theory, and practice equip participants to take what they have learned back to their agencies.

24. Quality of Life Act

In 2007, the Illinois General Assembly passed the nation's first specialty scratch-off lottery ticket that funds HIV prevention and care programs. Championed by advocates Ben Montgomery, Michael O'Connor and Marc Loveless, and sponsored by Rep. Karen Yarbrough ( D-Maywood ) and Sen. Jacqueline Collins ( D-Chicago ) , the program will make a second round of $1.4 million in grants to community-based programs in late 2011.

25. Robust AIDS Advocacy

Bullhorn? Check. Banners? Check. Chant sheets? Check. For three decades, Illinois' rich history of advocacy has built a robust local, state, and national response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With engaged individuals, organizations and government officials, Illinois has been at the forefront of progressive AIDS and healthcare policy and law. To export local and national best practices, AFC launched a new website in 2009 to advance the craft of AIDS public policy advocacy.

26. Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center

A bright, airy facility where an array of essential medical supportive and preventive services are available under one roof, the CORE Center caters to more than 5,000 people with HIV and tens of thousands more who rely on its prevention services. Part of Cook County's Health and Hospitals System, the CORE Center has been the county's flagship medical facility for HIV-affected residents since 1998. In the early 1980s, clinicians at Cook County Hospital and Fantus Health Center pioneered HIV medical care. That legacy continues today through the CORE Center, its geographically diverse affiliates, and widely recognized research activities.

27. Sterile Syringe Access

HIV infections among people who inject drugs have declined by two-thirds, thanks to Illinois' progressive sterile syringe availability policies. Beginning in the early 1990s ( when former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley pioneered city funding for syringe exchanges ) and throughout a 10-year fight in the Illinois General Assembly for over-the-counter syringe purchasing, the state's harm-reduction philosophy has represented a triumph of sound public health over ideology.

28. Social Media

The "How Are You Healthy?" and "Change My Story" social media campaigns break through AIDS "ennui" with thought-provoking, holistic messages. "How Are You Healthy?" encourages gay and bisexual men to address their health and wellness from an assets-based, "top-to-toe" approach and to share the variety of ways they stay physically, mentally, spiritually and sexually healthy in blog posts and videos. "Change My Story" encourages African—Americans to live life to the fullest by connecting to life_extending preventive healthcare services. By combating the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and connecting people to vital care services, "Change My Story" aims to drastically improve the health and lifestyle of the African—American community and other at-risk populations.

29. Syphilis-Elimination Campaign

"Baby, you'd remember gettin' caught in your zipper." "Do you really believe that rash is because we changed detergent?" Such memorable ads aimed at gay men graced Chicago from 2004-2007, and they worked. But, when syphilis cases dropped because of the campaign's success, so did the money, and the campaign ended. The campaign and its coalition of business leaders, clergy and professionals are memorialized online.

30. Sexually transmitted disease ( STD ) Testing in Chicago Public Schools

Cook County led the nation in 2010, but for all the wrong reasons. We ranked first, second, and second for the county with the most cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, respectively. In 2009, Chicago began group STD education, testing, and treatment events in several of the city's public high schools. In 2011-2012, 30 schools will be targeted.

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.

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