In recognition of World AIDS Day, Cook County Health and Cook County HIV Integrated Programs (CCHIP) are pleased to announce the expansion of the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) program – a preventive HIV medication used for people who are at higher risk of contracting the virus – to two community health centers in Belmont Cragin and North Riverside. This will help accommodate the growing need of high-impact HIV prevention services.

The first cases of AIDS were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 40 years ago in 1981. Today, the CDC estimates 1 in 7 people in the U.S. living with HIV are unaware of their infection. The CDC recommends individuals between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.

“Expanding these programs is essential to ensuring equitable access to HIV care and supporting the Getting to Zero Illinois plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030,” said Israel Rocha Jr., CEO for Cook County Health. “PrEP is a cornerstone of HIV prevention, and we are committed to making it available across Cook County, especially in communities that have historically been underserved.”

This new expansion will help Cook County Health increase access to services in areas disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, including communities of color and provide specialty care for patients closer to home.

Expanded services will include access to free or low-cost PrEP treatment, HIV testing, health education, medical monitoring, testing for sexually transmitted infections, supportive services to address social risk factors of health and greater accessibility to protection such as condoms.

“Our team focuses on reducing stigma through patient education and engagement, as well as offering PrEP in the primary care setting to help normalize the discussion of HIV and reduce barriers to testing, prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Daniel Vittum, lead physician for Cook County Health’s North Riverside Health Center. “Our initial successes give us hope that we can not only reduce, but eliminate HIV transmission in our communities.”

Cook County Health is proud of its work to increase accessibility to HIV testing and provide care to HIV and AIDS patients. Currently, 1 in 5 individuals living with HIV in Cook County receives care from Cook County Health.

The Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center is one of the largest HIV/AIDS clinics in the U.S., treating more than 5,700 patients during 2020 for HIV/AIDS and other infections. Other Cook County sites are located at Provident Hospital, Austin Health Center and the South Suburban HIV/AIDS Regional Clinics, which includes Blue Island, Robbins and Cottage Grove health centers, treating roughly an additional 1,000 patients annually.

“The success of the PrEP expansion program across Cook County Health community sites is dependent on the work of our ‘PrEP Champions’ – these medical providers have committed to work alongside staff, including health educators and peer navigators, to ensure culturally competent and positive health outcomes for all clients enrolled in the PrEP program,” said Alice Cameron, PharmD, Executive Director for HIV Services for the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center. “We are grateful to be able to collectively scale up sexual health services throughout the Cook County Health system.”

Elizabeth Pedersen, Communications Manager