The CDC NPIN Featured Partner resource offers HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention-focused organizations a platform to showcase their services, programs, and materials. Our goal is to highlight the work of CDC's prevention partners and encourage partners to connect with each other to share information and strategies. Organizations are nominated by CDC or their peers, or are self-nominated. Those selected are featured on the NPIN Web site for the month.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) STI/HIV Division works in partnership with the community to use the best public health practices to prevent the spread of HIV and provide treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). CDPH operates five full-service clinics that offer STI and HIV counseling, testing, diagnostic services, treatment, primary care, and prevention counseling. It also provides outreach and prevention education. CDPH’s surveillance program keeps track of infection statistics around Chicago that are published and made available on its Web site.
Project CHAT is the name by which the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System in Chicago is known by the local HIV prevention and care community. While at its core it is part of the HIV/AIDS surveillance system, Project CHAT has matured into a community-based project that has become a critical partner to many HIV prevention advocates in Chicago.
Originally funded by the CDC in 2003, Project CHAT focuses on collecting information about risk behaviors, prevention utilization, and HIV prevalence among the groups at the highest risk of acquiring HIV in Chicago, namely men who have sex with men (MSM), injection drug users (IDU), and low-socio-economic-status heterosexuals. Surveys are conducted in rotating annual cycles with the three different populations. Before each cycle, formative research is conducted to learn more about the populations, to introduce members of the community to the project, and to garner community support. During this phase of the project, local experts also contribute questions of local interest that are added to the core survey. Once the data collection begins, trained Project CHAT interviewers conduct surveys and rapid HIV testing in community-based locations with at least 500 members of these high-risk groups.
Because of the systematic methods used to collect the data, the findings can be useful as population-level estimates by which to evaluate, plan, and prioritize local prevention efforts and resource allocation. This is particularly effective when assessing which risk population subgroups are meeting annual HIV testing guidelines, and identifying barriers to testing and preferred locations for testing. Also, the HIV testing conducted during the survey allows CDPH to estimate the city-wide prevalence of HIV in each risk group and the proportion of those who are unaware of their HIV infection. Identifying groups that are unaware of their HIV infection is an important part of CDPH’s Healthy Chicago agenda, and it is critical to local targeted testing efforts.
The results of each cycle are disseminated to the HIV prevention communities through a coordinated campaign that can include community forums, symposiums, reports, published articles, social media, and press releases. Project CHAT remains the leading source of information on trends in risk behaviors, use of local HIV prevention, and racial disparities in HIV prevalence and rates of unrecognized HIV infection in Chicago.
In 2009, Project CHAT released the results of the second MSM cycle. The report highlighted the significant racial disparities in HIV prevalence and rates of unrecognized HIV infection among MSM in Chicago. It also highlighted that these differences existed despite similarities in risk behaviors, HIV testing history, and prevention utilization between racial groups.
The results of this survey cycle allowed the dialogue among MSM advocates and HIV prevention practitioners to shift to exploring broader, structural solutions to HIV prevention issues. Extensive media coverage brought this important issue to a wider Chicagoland audience as well.
The addition of questions of local interest has allowed the Project CHAT survey to be diverse in its exploration of factors related to HIV risk. The addition of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Index to the local survey for all risk groups has allowed violence prevention and child welfare advocates to educate constituents on the link between childhood abuse and subsequent adult HIV risk behaviors. In 2005, CDPH assessed the impact of new state legislation that allowed IDUs to purchase syringes at retail pharmacies without a prescription. And in 2010, CDPH helped evaluate the effectiveness and reach of a local social marketing campaign that aimed to introduce women to the new and improved female condom.
Since 2003, Project CHAT has worked with over 250 community organizations, local businesses, and advocacy groups in Chicago in the preparation, collection, and dissemination of the data from the project. This ongoing surveillance system maintains a strong community presence in Chicago and allows prevention advocates access to real-time trends in a broad array of behaviors to help stem the HIV epidemic.
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