Report indicates some Black men don't know their status

A report commissioned by the Chicago Department of Public Health on men who have sex with other men (MSM) concluded that Black men accounted for 30 percent of those who did not know they were HIV positive.

A report commissioned by the Chicago Department of Public Health on men who have sex with other men (MSM) concluded that Black men accounted for 30 percent of those who did not know they were HIV positive.

The report was conducted in 2008 but results were not made public until this summer, in part, because “it takes an enormous amount of time to analyze each survey, which contained more than 200 questions,” said Nikhil Prachand, an epidemiologist for the city’s Health Department and co-author of the report. And fellow epidemiologist Britt Livak is the report’s other author.

In the study, 92 percent of the men were tested for HIV and 17.4 percent tested positive. The results were higher for Blacks at 30.1 percent, 12 percent for Hispanics and 11.3 percent for whites. A total of 570 men participated in the survey.

Prachand said they found participants by visiting 57 venues throughout the city for six months. Each participant also received a $25 stipend for filling out the survey.

Venues included bars, clubs, street locations, retail stores, parks and churches. At most of the venues visited 75 percent of the attendees were MSM.

Health officials were not surprised by the report’s results.

“The findings confirm what we know about the path of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago, and they are consistent with findings in other large urban areas across the country,” said Christopher Brown, an assistant commissioner for the city’s Health Department.

“These rates are unacceptably high-and clearly, there is a need for continued, substantial efforts to reach people at risk with effective HIV education and testing services.”

But not all men who participated in the study, funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, considered themselves gay even though they admitted having sexual relations with men.

Dr. Terry Mason, commissioner for the Chicago Public Health Department, said the emphasis should not be on whether or not the men are gay.

“From a health standpoint it does not matter if these men are gay,” he said. “What does matter is that they may not be practicing safe sex and could spread sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS, to others.”

Three Chicago communities represented the largest concentration of participants and Auburn/Gresham on the South Side was among them. Lakeview/Uptown/Edgewater and Logan Square/West Town made up the other communities.

According to the 2000 Census, Auburn/Gresham is a predominately Black community. Some residents there are concerned.

“I can’t believe there are Black men in this area sleeping with men. Auburn/Gresham doesn’t seem like the type of area where down low brothers live or hang out,” said George Brown, 43. “Women should be careful who they date in this community because that man just may be on the down low.”

Kevin Lucus, 35, is one of those men. Lucus lives in the Auburn/Gresham community but did not participate in the survey.

“I am not gay. I am bi-curious. I have slept with men but it was because I was curious about being with another man,” said Lucus. “Now that I know it is an overrated experience I will not do it again.”

One key focus of the report was to identify men who were unaware of their HIV status.

Twenty-nine Black men in the survey did not know they were HIV positive until the Department of Health tested them. For whites, six didn’t know and seven Hispanics in the survey didn’t know they were HIV positive.

Other survey highlights include:

*Fifty-percent of Black men reported having unprotected anal sex with a man

*Forty-five percent of Black men reported having concurrent sexual partners

*Thirty-four percent of Black men did not know the HIV status of their most recent male, partner

The report recommends a widerange of things to combat the problem, including greater distribution of condoms, more sex education workshops offered at social service organizations and public health clinics and expanded HIV testing.

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