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Black Treatment Advocate Network Trains Chicago HIV/AIDS Activists

By Maya K. Francis

October 11, 2011

Black Treatment Advocate Network Trains Chicago HIV/AIDS Activists

The Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN) conducted two three-day training summits in Chicago this summer. The first, held in July, educated HIV/AIDS activists about AIDS science and treatment; the second, held in late August, prepared participants to mobilize communities affected by the disease.

Health-care providers, city representatives and activists, and more than 10 organizations participated in the education program, designed to support Black communities, which have been disproportionally impacted by HIV/AIDS. Keynote-reception speakers included Vanessa Smith, executive director of the South Side Help Center (SSHC); U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago); Chris Brown, assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health's STI/HIV Division; and Yaa Simpson, a noted community epidemiologist and bioethicist for the Association of Clinical Trial Services. The sessions were conducted by the Black AIDS Institute.

"The biggest HIV challenges for Chicago include finding those with HIV [and getting them] into medical care and supporting them in sustaining that care; and helping those who are not HIV positive to remain uninfected by educating them about realistic HIV-prevention practices and making those practices a part of their routine," says Louis Spriggins, the SSHC coordinator whose opening address kicked off the reception.

Although Blacks represent only about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for almost half of people living with HIV and almost half of new infections between 2006 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Blacks in that city represented almost 60 percent of AIDS cases and more than 55 percent of the total HIV cases diagnosed in 2006.

"The starkest similarity [between national and local data] relates to the huge impact HIV has on Black communities. Budget cuts have drastically diminished the necessary tools to stop new HIV infections and treat and care for people who are living with HIV," says Black AIDS Institute training and capacity-building manager Raniyah Abdus-Samad. "Numerous factors play a role in the ability of people to access quality care. We know that high incarceration rates, low levels of HIV knowledge, stigma, lack of access to services and a multitude of other issues are making programs like BTAN necessary to respond to communities' needs. A great group of individuals from different organizations are willing to join this network to try and end the AIDS epidemic in their Black community."

The Chicago BTAN summit attracted HIV/AIDS workers from a variety of professional backgrounds, including Justin M. Wooley, supervisor at Chicago's (Respect) HIV Prevention Intervention.

"Within the field of HIV, there's a population of unprofessionally trained workers, and then there's a field of highly trained professionals such as M.P.H.'s and Ph.D.'s," Wooley said. "The training brought Black people together across educational levels. It was coalition building. There was synergy from people of various backgrounds" -- synergy that enabled people to engage across disciplines with key influencers from the HIV/AIDS community, creating a greater knowledge base in the fight against the disease.

"The four key outcomes of BTAN," says Abdus-Samad, "include increasing the number of Black people in appropriate early care and treatment, increasing the HIV scientific literacy in Black communities, increasing the number of Black people in clinical trials and increasing the number of Black people who sit on HIV-related advisory boards."

In the two years since its inception, BTAN has hosted trainings in six cities--Atlanta; Chicago; Houston; Jackson, Miss.; Los Angeles and Philadelphia--providing each with a network of knowledgeable, culturally competent Black HIV/AIDS activists. The pharmaceutical company Merck sponsors each training session.

"The Black AIDS Institute focuses on 25 cities that have a high prevalence of HIV in their community, strong Black infrastructure and a critical mass of Black people. We've chosen our BTAN cities from these 25 cities," says Abdus-Samad. "But even if a city isn't a part of the three cities we focus on each year, people and cities can be a part of the national network."

For more information about BTAN, visit the Black AIDS Institute website and click on the BTAN badge.

Maya K. Francis is a writer, editor and publicist based in Philadelphia. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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