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Inside Story
“You’re not a second-class citizen because you’re HIV-positive. You’re a human being.” PDF Print
Thursday, August 21, 2014

HIV — it’s not just a problem in large metropolitan areas. In fact, about one-third of the HIV/AIDS cases in Illinois are among people living outside of Chicago. That’s why places like Open Door Clinic are needed — to serve people living with and at increased vulnerability for HIV in places like Aurora and Elgin.

Sacha Urban, a passionate HIV/AIDS advocate and longtime participant in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, supports the work of Open Door Clinic by serving on the organization’s board of directors and providing leadership in fundraising and development.

Sacha 2009“I have a master’s degree in nonprofit management, and when I started to look around at my options for doing some community work, I found Open Door Clinic, and it just seemed like such a great fit.”

Urban moved to the US from Switzerland at age 21; she lived in California briefly before settling in at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

“The University of Indiana seemed like the right place for people to come out and be themselves,” said Sacha. “I made a ton of friends in the LGBT community there.”

But after moving to St. Charles, Ill., with her husband, Urban had trouble finding that same connection to the LGBT community. That’s when she found Open Door Clinic and saw that the LGBT community and the HIV/AIDS community were marginalized by the social landscape of the suburbs and needed her support.

“HIV is not a priority out here,” said Urban. “People in the suburbs know more people who are affected by cancer than HIV. It’s a reality — and a segment of the population — that I don’t think most suburban people want to think about.”

And it’s a disease that can create fear and anxiety in some people. “Recently, a woman came to Open Door Clinic and was diagnosed as HIV-positive. She was an older woman — a grandmother.

“She went to her pastor to pray with him — to get support through this difficult time — and he Sacha2told her that he couldn’t pray with her anymore because of her HIV status. I just think that’s terrible. You’re not a second-class citizen because you’re HIV-positive. You’re a human being.”

Bringing awareness and changing hearts — in the suburbs, in big cities, wherever stigma against HIV lives — is why Urban participates in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, and has for the past five years. “I’ve walked, and then I started running in it. I’ve done it alone and with my kids.”

Urban’s experience with AIDS Run & Walk Chicago even prepared her to join the Team to End AIDS, with whom she trained to run the marathon in 2013.

“Stigma against HIV/AIDS is still around. I run with AIDS Run & Walk Chicago to raise money and awareness to end the hurtful, negative views people have of the disease.”

Join Sacha and thousands of other runners and walkers on Sept. 14 — join or donate to AIDS Run & Walk Chicago today at


Kicking stigma to the curb through AIDS Run & Walk Chicago PDF Print
Friday, July 11, 2014

How do you overcome stigma — the dark shadow over an idea or thing that makes people jump to drastic conclusions? For Brad Setter, it’s all about awareness — bringing the thing that’s so stigmatized into the public light to get rid of the shadow.

Setter portraitSetter, a 24-year-old student at College of DuPage, knows a thing or two about stigma. He served in the US Marine Corps from 2007-2011, and toward the end of his service, he came out to a friend in the Marines, who told another person, who told another person, and — you can see where this is going. The stigma around being gay in the military broke Setter’s relationships with his fellow Marines.

“All of a sudden, these guys I was serving next to were turning against me, bullying me. I couldn’t believe it.”

But after he was discharged from the marines in 2011 and moved to Phoenix, he got his confidence back through working at a bar, which raised money for LGBT causes. It was a breath of fresh air for Setter, to see one community build its members up after his painful experience in the marines, who tore him down.

“I never knew that a business could be so active in giving back to the community. It really taught me a lot,” said Setter.

While in Phoenix, Setter dated two men who were HIV-positive. These seriodiscordant relationships (where one partner is HIV-positive and one is HIV-negative) taught him about the way people living with HIV have to battle the stigma around the disease in public and within themselves.

“I was hanging out with the first guy I dated who I didn’t know what HIV-positive at the time, and all of a sudden he just started crying. I didn’t know what to do, so I just held him.” He later told Setter the news about his HIV status; the two of them talked through it, and Setter went to a local health clinic to learn more about HIV.

Setter email blast“I see the toll it takes on their lives. But I just feel you need to realize people are people first, and HIV/AIDS is something outside of that.”

Setter has participated in HIV/AIDS fitness events in both Phoenix and Chicago; this year will mark the second time he has participated in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago. He’s running for Youth Outlook, a nonprofit organization in the Chicago suburbs.

“It’s so important to end the stigma around HIV/AIDS out in the suburbs. I’m looking forward to bringing some visibility to the cause.”

AIDS Run & Walk Chicago will take place on Sept. 14 at Arvey Field in Grant Park. To register or donate, go to

What can internet search engines reveal about STD trends and risk? PDF Print
Tuesday, July 01, 2014

In an invited talk at the 2014 STD Prevention Conference, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s Director of Research, Evaluation and Data Services, Amy Johnson, along with UIC Associate Professor Supriya Mehta, discussed the application of search engine data to sexually transmitted disease (STD) surveillance. Highlighting their current study published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in January 2014, they discussed the challenges and feasibility of this novel approach.

Internet-based surveillance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has the potential to increase the timeliness of detection and response to trends in infection as well as enhance sensitivity and predictive capacity of the surveillance system.

In this study, Google Trends was used to examine the relationship between STI-related search trends and CDC-reported STI rates by U.S. state. Google Trends analyzes Internet searches to tally how many searches are completed for the terms entered. Data from Google Trends has been used to accurately predict regional outbreaks of influenza 7 to 10 days before conventional surveillance. It has also been applied to other infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus, rotavirus, and more recently, HIV.

In the current study, the frequency of STI search terms was greatest in states where STI rates are the highest. The search term “gonorrhea” was positively associated with STI rates in 2011; however, there was no association for “chlamydia” as a search term. The lack of association between “chlamydia” and state rate of disease may be due to the short period of data analyzed; because screening for chlamydia is much more common relative to gonorrhea, if most chlamydia cases are detected asymptomatically, this may explain the lack of correlation between search terms.

The current study has limitations. For starters, it cannot be concluded that only STI-infected individuals or those at risk are generating all STI-related search terms. There is uncertainty about the cause of trends, and there is no control for differential access to the internet by region.

Next steps include partnering with Google to enhance the user interface and develop disease specific tools, determining the potential for integrating this new method into surveillance settings and determining search engine user characteristics.

It’s a brave new world of health-related big data, and learning to leverage this data and integrate it into public health systems is an innovative and important task.

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About Inside Story

Do you ever feel there are critical advances in HIV/AIDS prevention that aren't being properly covered in the mainstream media? Or that there are complex HIV/AIDS-related healthcare and funding issues not being clearly explained? Or that there are powerful HIV/AIDS stories here in Chicago just waiting for someone to tell them?
We feel that way, too!

At the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), we’re committed to changing the story of HIV/AIDS. Inside Story aims to take you inside that story, to give you an intimate look at how AFC, and other Chicago and national organizations, are fighting HIV/AIDS through medical, housing and support services; cutting-edge research into prevention and treatment methods; and advocacy for stronger HIV-AIDS public policy from legislators.

If you have questions or blog ideas, please contact Brian Solem, Communications Manager and Staff Writer, at


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