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Illinois Governor Announces New Black HIV/AIDS Initiative
by Andrew Davis

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On Sept. 15, before a packed auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University's Center for Inner City, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced an expanded HIV/AIDS social marketing effort designed to reach the African-American community with education, prevention and testing.

The campaign is called BASUAH ( Brothers And Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS ) . Numerous media outlets statewide have agreed to help boost this effort geared toward the African-American community. The state will increase funding efforts tenfold to $2.5 million; build media partnerships; and form key partnerships with churches, colleges and even South Africa to address the crisis.

In 2004, the number of reported AIDS cases declined by four percent in Illinois compared to the previous year. Blacks accounted for 54 percent of the cases ( 772 ) , whites 27 percent ( 383 ) and Hispanics 17 percent ( 241 ) . However, while AIDS cases declined, the number of HIV cases increased. In 2004, a total of 2,662 persons reported HIV infection in Illinois, an increase of nearly 16 percent over the previous year. African Americans accounted for more than half the reported cases with 1,406 ( 52.8 percent ) , although they represent just 15 percent of the state's population. Whites consisted of 26 percent of the reported cases and Hispanics made up 15 percent.

BASUAH will include public service announcements ( PSAs ) to air on radio stations throughout the state and print PSAs that will appear in newspapers statewide. Posters, transit ads, printed materials, and events will feature the campaign's slogan, web site ( ) and the state's HIV/AIDS hotline for testing sites and prevention information. Some of the Chicago media partners include The Chicago Defender, Clear Channel Radio Group, FOX 32, NBC 5, ABC 7, WGN-TV, CBS 2, WGCI-FM and V103.

The governor said that the series of initiatives is necessary 'for those who are being besieged by HIV and AIDS.' He then mentioned the disproportionate number of African Americans who are infected before adding that 'we definitely need to do something about this.' Blagojevich announced several parts of the multi-pronged initiative:

— The state will partner with predominately African-American colleges and universities to provide on-campus rapid HIV/AIDS testing and to establish peer networks to encourage testing. Working through organizations such as campus AIDS groups, the Greek system and Black student organizations, efforts will be made to increase awareness and decrease rates of new infections.

— Illinois will team with African-American churches and their youth ministries to establish peer networks and encourage testing. Youth will be trained as BASUAH ambassadors; these individuals would be trained by the Red Cross as peer educators to provide HIV prevention messages to other youth throughout the community.

— Filing emergency rules to implement statewide rapid HIV/AIDS testing. On Wednesday, Sept.14, 2005, the State filed emergency rules to implement HIV/AIDS rapid testing statewide.

— There will be the first-ever African-American faith-based statewide conference to address eliminating the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Illinois Department of Public Health ( IDPH ) will gather hundreds of leaders from the Black faith-based community to develop a plan. The strategy will identify obstacles that churches face in providing a network for delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention messages and formulate solutions.

— There will be a more expansive Wellness on Wheels van program. Wellness on Wheels, a mobile health unit, will bring a variety of health screenings ( including HIV testing ) to lower-income areas in eight counties that lack medical resources. This move is an expansion of the highly successful program currently serving the Champaign and Decatur areas, bringing HIV and STD testing to residents of public housing complexes and shelters as well as the homeless.

— IDPH will launch a partnership with South Africa. In collaboration with the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, and South African Partner, Inc., the department will start a sister-state project with Northern Cape Province in South Africa. The activities will include direct one-on-one technical assistance with the AIDS directors. The partnership will consist of a mutually beneficial knowledge exchange between Illinois and South African partners on how to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Programs targeting communities of color, which include African Americans, Hispanics and Asians, are a top priority of the state's HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. In the current fiscal year, 77 percent of the state's $8.5 million in prevention program funding is directed towards programs dealing with racial minorities, including about 60 percent that target Blacks. Blagojevich added nearly $3.2 million to the state budget this year to enhance HIV prevention efforts in minority communities.

In addition to the social marketing campaign, IDPH allotted $250,000 this year to help fund the HIV/AIDS Policy and Research Institute at Chicago State University. The institute, which Gov. Blagojevich helped implement with a $350,000 grant in fiscal year 2004, is conducting research on why Blacks are so disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and ways to effect behavioral change.

A who's who of the Black community attended the event, including local FOX anchor Robin Robinson; Rep. Constance Howard, D-Chicago; 'Crazy' Howard McGee of WGCI-FM; and Angela Ingram of Clear Channel. Robinson gave an animated speech in which she said that 'we want you to grow old and live a long, full life.' She also mentioned that HIV/AIDS education is important not only to avoid the disease but to learn how to live with the illness if one contracts it.

In addition, Robinson talked briefly about her brother, who died nine years ago of the disease ( contracted through intravenous drug use ) .

For more information on HIV/AIDS, visit or call the Illinois HIV/AIDS and STD hotline at ( 800 ) 243-2437 Mon.-Fri from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

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