World AIDS Day encourages uptick in testing


G-Jun Yam/chronicle

Ornaments with HIV information and resources on the inside will be hung in the Austin and North Lawndale neighborhoods until February.


Several awareness and outreach events took place on  World AIDS Day Dec.1 to increase awareness and urge people to identify  their HIV status.

It was the 27th World AIDS Day, which was first honored in 1988 when the disease and its viral causes were still little understood.

 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone is diagnosed with HIV about every 10 minutes and more than 56,000 Americans are infected yearly.

One of the initiatives launched Dec.1 was the Chicago Wears Condoms campaign, created by the Chicago Department of Public Health  in partnership with Mikva Challenge, a group dedicated to empowering youth activists. The campaign will encourage the use of condoms through advertisements with the Chicago Transit Authority and on social media according a to Dec. 1 press release from the CDPH.

“We wanted to create a campaign to target youth in a positive way,” said Heaven Johnson, a senior at Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy who collaborated with the campaign in a Dec. 1 press release from the CDPH. “Youth want to hear solutions driven by our own ideas and experiences, and Chicago Wears Condoms is one solution. We hope this campaign leads to an open and honest conversation.”

HIV RealTALK, a nonprofit based in the Austin neighborhood which seeks to provide resources to people living with HIV and AIDS, hosted a World AIDS Day event to encourage community members to get tested.

“We work with community leaders to implement risk reduction strategies in high-risk neighborhoods,” said Maya Green, founder of HIV RealTALK.

The organization also launched the Message Tree Project, which decorates trees throughout the Austin and North Lawndale communities with ornaments containing cards with information on where people can receive free HIV testing and other resources. The campaign will last until  February.

“They are meant to engage people by spreading the word about prevention, education and participation through different artistic expressions,” said Dejuane Rivers, board member of HIV RealTALK.

Green said she hopes people take the ornaments to receive more information.

According to Green, one out of 100 Austin neighborhood residents is at risk of an HIV diagnosis. The center’s website cites drug use, sex with multiple partners and unprotected sex as risk factors.  “Our community has one of the highest concentrations of HIV diagnoses,and we want to find solutions,” said Pam Moore, chief of staff for the 29th Ward.

According to Green, the World Health Organization set a goal of  eradicating   AIDS by 2030, and a  report released by the WHO in 2014 said that the number of  HIV-related deaths decreased by 42 percent

 since 2004.

“The only way we will be able to [eradicate AIDS] is to get one-on-one and face-to-face with communities and address the issues,” Green said.

The number of HIV diagnoses in Chicago decreased by 48 percent since 2001, according to the Dec.1 CDPH press release.

“Chicago continues to make real progress in our fight against HIV and STIs because of a coordinated and collaborative effort,” CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD said in a Dec. 1 CDPH press release.