Chicago is seeing a downward trend in new HIV infections and late diagnoses, according to a new Chicago Department of Public Health ( CDPH ) report.
CDPH's annual HIV/STI Surveillance Report was released Dec. 1 to coincide with World AIDS Day at a conference held in the Alphawood Gallery in Lincoln Park; the exhibition Art AIDS America opened there that day.
According to officials, infection and diagnosis patterns in Chicago are consistent with those seen in the rest of the country, with some key rates dropping, but numerous disparities still exist.
"By having this timely and accurate data, we can ensure that decisions we make as a department, and decisions [stakeholders] make as our partners, we'll assure that those with the greatest need will get the help they need," said CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita.
CDPH Deputy Commissioner Dave Kern said that the new report aligns the city's work with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy as well as the four-year Healthy Chicago 2.0 strategy, and that CDPH's long-term goal is reaching a point of zero new infections.
In 2015, there were 921 new HIV infections in Chicago, according to Kern. "We noticed that, over time, the number of new HIV infections hadn't climbed significantly and we're very proud and happy that that has happened. But we're measured with our pride because we've seemed to have reached a plateau in the last five years. …That leads us to believe that we need to be accelerating our work to drive down infections once again."
Of the new infections, about 83 percent were male, about 76 percent were men who have sex with men ( MSM ), and 54 percent were Black. About 79 percent of those newly infected individuals can get on a continuum of care within 30 days of their diagnosis, while 90 percent are on a continuum within a year. But retaining those people there has been problematic, Kern said. Only 40 percent of those living with HIV were retained in care in 2015, while only 48 percent of those people were virally suppressed.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy asks participants to ensure that 90 percent of individuals with HIV are retained in care, and that 80 percent are virally suppressed.
Kern said that CDPH would focus on helping persons with HIV suppress the viral load and increase the use of PrEP among populations that are vulnerable to HIV.
"These are strategies that many other jurisdictions across the country are embracing," he added, noting that the zero new infections-initiative would begin in the next few months, as well as alliances with non-traditional partners.
"I can see an end to the AIDS era in sight," Morita said. "By using data to engage our partners, we can create the policies and programs that are necessary to stop the epidemic once and for all."