Education, Prevention Efforts Continue on World AIDS Day

Nov 30, 2016

As President-Elect Donald Trump assembles his cabinet, it’s becoming clearer that he will likely attempt to alter the US’ healthcare system.

His appointments to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have already worked in varying capacities to alter health care funding in their respective states.

Credit Sham Hardy / Flickr/Creative Commons

That is worrisome to those involved in prevention efforts, like University of Illinois Chicago professor and researcher Jennifer Brier.

“I’m terrified. I think we in Illinois are in a very difficult position around public health, around public education, around the public sector in general,” Brier said. 

Brier wrote the book “Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Response to the AIDS Crisis,” and she’ll be presenting a keynote at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria Thurs. Dec.1, World AIDS Day. 

A lack of government funding may be felt already here in Peoria and other parts of the state. Positive Health Solutions serves more than 600 patients annually in the Heart of Illinois Region, which covers 15 counties. Director Pam Briggs says the agency saw a 15-percent increase in cases since 2015, when the state was without a full budget.

"It's disconcerting," Briggs said. 

She says most patients living with the virus rely on healthcare assistance. Medications for managing the virus cost an average $1,500 a month, Briggs said. 

Department of Public Health surveillance data estimates more than 800 people are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in a 15-county region that includes Peoria. Briggs says if you subtract the number of people receiving care at PHS, about 200 are seeking treatment elsewhere or not at all. When patients are being treated for the virus, there's a 96-percent reduction in chances it will be transmitted, Briggs said. 

The reasons for people not seeking treatment can tell a broader story about housing, economics and what is considered "taboo."  

“People living with the virus who have survived, and there are many of them in Peoria and the surrounding counties as well, are some of the people we need to listen to most closely,” Brier said. 

Often, people diagnosed can’t afford treatment or they lack housing and transportation.  Brier says a continued societal reluctance to talk about sex, homosexuality and intravenous drug use also makes prevention efforts difficult. 

Numbers gathered from Positive Health Solutions in 2015 show that of its patients seeking treatment, 319 were men who reported having sex with men, 43 where people who reported intravenous drug use and 213 were people who reported having heterosexual intercourse. 

Jennifer Brier is a professor of history and gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. She specializes in US gay and lesbian history, the history of sexuality and gender, and public history.
Credit University of Illinois

"There's still work to be done to get people comfortable talking about this," Briggs said. 

The U of I Library of the Health Sciences Peoria is hosting an event Thurs., Dec. 1 to commemorate World AIDS Day.

The presentation includes Jennifer Brier's keynote as well as a traveling exhibit and a public recognition for state Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria).

Rep. Leitch supported legislation that provided funding for the first clinical grant. That money helped establish Positive Health Solutions in 1994, when it was the Heart of Illinois HIV/AIDS Center.

If you go:

WHEN: Dec. 1 from 5:30-7:30 pm

WHERE: UICOMP, 1 Illini Drive