August 22, 2019

Mayor Lightfoot Announces Task Force to Combat Sexually Transmitted Infections

Health department will engage medical and community experts to tackle syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea

Andrew Buchanan

CHICAGO - Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) today announced a new, multiyear initiative to slash the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Chicago, starting with a task force of medical and community experts that will create a comprehensive action plan to reduce new primary and secondary syphilis cases, the most infectious stages of disease in men and pregnant women.

“The City of Chicago is committed to ensuring all residents have the opportunity to be healthy,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “There is an urgent need to scale up prevention and treatment efforts on STIs. Together with community partners, we intend to meet this challenge.”

The Syphilis Task Force will be a partnership co-led by CDPH and community organizations, which will work together to develop strategies that are scientifically sound, community oriented and focused on populations and geographic areas disproportionately impacted by syphilis. The Task Force will set goals, targets and make recommendations that focus on strengthening existing policies and practices and initiating new approaches to reduce disease transmission through increased testing, treatment and prevention.

The syphilis task force is the first step of the multiyear initiative to curb STIs across the city. Future task forces will be named to create recommendations for reducing chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, primarily among non-Hispanic Black youth and young adults.

“This approach exemplifies the essential role that City government can play in promoting community-driven solutions to public health problems,” said CDPH Acting Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “With a commitment to equity and transparency, we will both strengthen existing policies and pursue innovative approaches to reducing the spread of STIs.”

The Task Force is comprised of 15 experts and leaders of healthcare providers, academic institutions and community-based organizations with successful track records developing community engagement strategies and implementing public health interventions. Members include:

  • Jesús Hernández Burgos; Public Health Initiatives Director, Puerto Rican Cultural Center- Vida/SIDA
  • Jill Dispenza, Director; HIV/AIDS and STD Services, Center on Halsted
  • Erik Elías Glenn; Executive Director, Chicago’s Black Gay Men Caucus 
  • Noel Green; Manager of Outreach and Care Engagement, University of Chicago, Chicago Center for HIV Elimination 
  • Chad Hendry; Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health, Howard Brown Health Center 
  • Brian Mustanski, PhD; Co-Director, Third Coast Center for AIDS Research (CFAR)
  • Nirmalpal Sachdev; General Manager, Steamworks
  • Greg Storms, MA; Director of Youth Services, Center on Halsted 
  • Homer Abiad, MD, MPH; Infectious Diseases Physician, Cook County Health – John H. Stroger/CORE 
  • Aniruddha Hazra, MD; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases and Global Health University of Chicago 
  • Kristin Keglovitz-Baker, Chief Operating Officer and Certified Physician’s Assistant, Howard Brown Health Center 
  • Supriya D. Mehta, MHS, PhD;Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health 
  • Maura P. Quinlan, MD, MPH; Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine 
  • John Schneider, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Medicine and Epidemiology Director University of Chicago Chicago Center for HIV Elimination 
  • Andrew Trotter, MD, MPH; Assistant Professor Infectious Diseases Specialist University of Illinois at Chicago

While HIV rates are declining, other STIs are on the rise across the nation. In 2018, Chicago had 30,608 chlamydia cases (the highest on record), 12,679 gonorrhea cases (the highest in a decade) and 877 primary and secondary syphilis cases (the highest since the mid-1990s). The syphilis figure represents an 11% rise over the previous year, with a disproportionate effect on gay and bisexual men. In addition, women saw a 38% increase between 2017 and 2018, which could lead to more babies acquiring congenital syphilis (CS). Without proper treatment, syphilis can lead to neurological damage, blindness, deafness, dementia, stroke and permanent damage to vital organs.

“The time has come for a concerted effort to reduce syphilis in our community,” says Chad Hendry, Director of Sexual & Reproductive Health at Howard Brown Health and member of the Syphilis Task Force. “We are eager to work with the City to foster more effective approaches to preventing and treating syphilis, especially among the residents most at risk.”

This initiative builds on CDPH’s existing efforts. CDPH tracks all new STI infections in Chicago—more than 40,000 cases annually—and provides follow up services to prevent further transmission. The department also makes strategic investments in STI prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including:

  • Operation of three STI specialty clinics in Austin, Lakeview and Roseland that act as a critical safety net and serve nearly 11,000 residents per year, treating more than 2,500 infections. Residents can also pick up free condoms and learn more about other HIV prevention methods like PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).
  • Funding for two community-based clinics, operated by Howard Brown Health and the CORE Center that provided more than 15,000 screening tests and diagnosed and treated more than 2,000 cases in 2018.
  • In 2018, Chicago made progress in reducing the number of congenital syphilis cases to 11, the lowest number in the past five years. In partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health, health care providers and perinatal centers in Illinois, CDPH implemented coordinated elimination strategies and launched two awareness campaigns.
  • The Chicago Healthy Adolescents and Teens (CHAT) program, a partnership with Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Chicago Public Schools, provides sexual health education, STI screening and linkage to treatment for teens and young adults in 40 CPS high schools. In 2018, CHAT provided sexual health education to more than 12,000 students and STI screening to nearly 6,500 students.
  • Marketing campaigns such as Save Yours, educate young people on STIs and encourage them to get regular screenings.

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