For Jennifer Stone, health insurance has never been a problem, despite being diagnosed with HIV almost four years ago.
Stone says the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative helped her gain insurance and stability in her life.
"I was diagnosed at 12 p.m. and they were there by 3," says Stone, 27, who has two children and asked that her name be changed to protect her identity. "I wouldn't have housing, a great doctor or furniture if it wasn't for them."
Now HIV moms and their unborn babies may be in danger of losing prenatal care with recent passage of a $29.6 billion state budget by the Illinois General Assembly. The budget cuts funding to HIV/AIDS programs across Illinois by 42 percent and leaves the future of the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative in jeopardy.
"When I was first diagnosed, it was devastating, but the counseling has helped," Stone says. "They helped me with everything."
The initiative served 133 moms in 2011 and 69 of them gave birth to healthy babies last year. The services prevent babies from being born with HIV.
The Illinois Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Surveillance Unit and Reporting System estimates that there have been about 16,000 HIV cases in Illinois since 1981 with an additional 8,300 Illinois residents who do not know they are HIV-positive. Women represent almost a quarter of new infections.
In 2009, Illinois had eighth highest cumulative number of AIDS cases, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, with more than 39,000 reported cases and 20,000 deaths since 1981.
The state legislature passed the Perinatal HIV Prevention Act in 2008 to help provide information and awareness to HIV positive women who were pregnant or hoping to become pregnant.
Some of the mandates of the act include HIV testing of all pregnant women, rapid tests during labor and after delivery for women without a documented HIV status, mandatory testing of newborns and a preliminary report from hospitals on HIV positive women and/or infants to the 24/7 Illinois Perinatal HIV Hotline within 24 hours.
Infants of HIV positive women receive immediate treatment that can help prevent the HIV virus.
Rapid HIV testing for pregnant women, which provides preliminary results in 20 minutes as opposed to a week or even more for a standard HIV test, helps in providing immediate treatment to mothers. Without that treatment, mothers have a one in four chance of infecting their children. However, with treatment the transmission rate is less than one percent.
Averting cases of HIV results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings in medical care for the state, for mothers and their children, advocates say. And that is in addition to the human victory of potentially saving the lives of mothers and their babies.
All these services could be at risk, says Laurie Ayala, who serves as statewide co-coordinator for the Illinois Perinatal HIV Hotline. The hotline acts as a resource for perinatal health care providers designed to identify pregnant, infected women and link them to care with organizations like the Initiative.
The hotline is centered in Illinois and works with 120 hospitals statewide to offer care to high-risk women.
"Illinois has been ahead of the curve and way more progressive than other states with rapid testing and treatment for women, there's no reason this care shouldn't be provided," Ayala says.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 563 people are also in danger of losing medical care, food, and mental health treatment, things that all helped Angela Davis when she was diagnosed last December.
"In the beginning it was a shock but [the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative] has helped with diapers, transportation to and from the hospital for my appointments and a car seat," says Davis, a Chicago mother who also asked that her name be changed.
Through the Initiative's support, Davis is able to maintain a routine life caring for her five-month-old son, whose tests have come back negative for the HIV infection.
"I just take my meds and I've been good so far. Everything happens for a reason and my case manager has been like a mom to me. They do whatever they can and it does help a lot," says Davis.
With such a high HIV/AIDS population, Pediatric AIDS of Chicago Prevention Initiative case manager Lucy Rios says that while her own job may be at risk, cuts to Medicare and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program will have an even bigger impact on her clients.
"Our case managers will probably be cut in half to around two to three people and most clients may have to go to clinics where they'll be working with a different case manager each time. It's tough because in that situation it's hard to build trust," Rios says.
Rios also stated that her position and relationship with her clients goes beyond just education.
"I usually to talk to them first, educating them on HIV and also drive them and go with them to that first [doctor's appointment] because I know it can be nerve wracking. Whatever they need, I link them to it," says Rios.