Press Release

September 18, 2007


Comedian Rickey Smiley & Gospel Recording Artists join forces with the Blagojevich administration to educate about HIV/AIDS

Governor’s BASUAH (Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS) Campaign promotes HIV prevention & testing at a free Gospel concert

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gospel artists and others in the faith-based community today helped the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) educate and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. The message was part of Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s BASUAH (Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS) Campaign to address the alarming rise in infection rates among the state's African-American community.

Comedian Rickey Smiley, members of clergy and Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, took part in a panel discussion at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. After the panel discussion, thousands were entertained by artists Byron Cage and “Mary Mary” at a free gospel concert. IDPH offered free HIV rapid testing on site to help encourage people to know their status.

“As young people, especially African Americans, continue to be infected with HIV at an alarming rate, we must be more aggressive in our efforts to promote education, prevention, and testing,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “We’ve had success in the past by hosting entertainment to attract large numbers of African-American youth and young adults to provide culturally specific HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease prevention and education messages and a chance to be tested for HIV for free. The Gospel Fest is what I like to call "Edutainment." People are drawn to the event for the entertainment, but walk away with an education on HIV/AIDS.”

Gov. Blagojevich launched BASUAH in September 2005 to address the alarming trend of infection among the African American community in Illinois. BASUAH focuses on education, prevention and testing and targets African Americans by specifically funding interventions that are designed to decrease new infections.

Today’s program also featured performances by local artists. “This is the third BASUAH concert we’ve hosted to provide information to our youth about the importance of HIV prevention and testing,” said Dr. Whitaker. “When artists lend their celebrity to this cause, it helps spread the message that HIV is preventable.”

Components of Gov. Blagojevich’s BASUAH initiative include:

  • Implementing statewide rapid HIV/AIDS testing
    On September 14, 2005, the State filed emergency rules to implement HIV/AIDS rapid testing statewide. The State (through the Illinois Department of Public Health) adopted these rules on February 3, 2006, which made it possible for a person to get preliminary positive results from a rapid HIV test. (Previously a person had to wait weeks before receiving their results.)
  • Partnering with predominantly African American colleges and universities to provide on-campus rapid HIV/AIDS testing and to establish peer networks to encourage testing
    HIV/AIDS testing is a critical component of any program to decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS. African American college students are at particular risk for risky behaviors for HIV/AIDS transmission. The State partners with these colleges and universities to provide testing and establish peer networks that will encourage testing. Working through organizations such as campus AIDS groups, fraternities and sororities, and African American student organizations, efforts are made to increase awareness and decrease rates of new infections.
  • Partnering with African American churches and their youth ministries to establish peer networks and encourage testing
    Understanding that the churches are, in most cases, the focal point of the African American community, the State is partnering with faith-based congregations to identify and train youth as BASUAH ambassadors. These individuals are trained by the Red Cross as peer educators to provide HIV prevention messages to other youth, not only in their congregation, but also throughout the community. Young adults are encouraged to know and understand the threat of HIV to themselves and others, be able to identify and change risky behavior, and encourage other youth to know their status by being tested.
  • Perinatal HIV rapid testing and reporting past results
    All Illinois birthing hospitals have now implemented HIV rapid testing and treatment and more than 5,300 labor/delivery and nursery nurses have been trained. The Illinois program to prevent mother to child HIV transmission is one of the best models in the nation. In 2005, almost 97 percent, or 134,372, mother/newborn pairs participated in rapid HIV testing at Illinois birthing hospitals. Twenty-six HIV positive women were identified through rapid testing during labor and delivery (August 2004 – December 2005), four infants were confirmed positive. In 2006, nine HIV perinatal transmissions were identified.
  • Establishing the first ever African American faith based conference to address eliminating the spread of HIV/AIDS in the African American community
    The State is working with leaders from the African American faith-based community develop a strategic plan to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the African American community. The strategic plan will identify obstacles that the faith-based community faces in providing a network for delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention messages and formulate solutions. Congregations that have provided leadership in this area will display and discuss “best practice models.”
  • Wellness on Wheels Van
    Wellness on Wheels, a multi-disciplinary mobile unit brings a variety of health screenings, including HIV testing, to underserved areas of Illinois that lack medical resources. This is an expansion of the highly successful Wellness on Wheels van that initially served the Champaign area bringing HIV and STD testing to residents of public housing complexes, shelters and the homeless.
  • The South African Twinning Partnership
    The Illinois Department of Public Health in collaboration with the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, and South African Partner, Inc., has launched a sister-state project with Northern Cape Province in South Africa. Activities include direct one-on-one technical assistance with the AIDS directors. The partnership consists of a mutually beneficial knowledge exchange between Illinois and our South African partners on how to address the HIV/AIDS crisis. In January of 2006, Gov. Blagojevich sent the HIV/AIDS Section Chief, Dr. Andre Rawls, to Kimberley, Northern Cape Province, South Africa as the first of the sister-state exchange between the Northern Cape Province and the State of Illinois. The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors sponsored the 10-day trip, in conjunction with a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant extended to South African Partners. The second portion of the exchange took place in April 2006 when health department officials from the Northern Cape Province visited Illinois.
  • The West Africa Technical Assistance Efforts
    In 2006, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich welcomed Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during her visit in Illinois and presented her with a gift of 25,000 HIV tests for pregnant women in her AIDS ravaged country. Later that year, state public health director Dr. Eric E. Whitaker led a delegation to the Republic of Liberia to provide assistance for implementing a program to prevent mother to child HIV transmission. The Illinois program to prevent mother to child HIV transmission is one of the best models in the nation.

For more information, visit or call the Illinois HIV/AIDS and STD hotline 1-800-243-2437 during the following hours: M-F 9:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. Weekends 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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