Local and state health leaders are joining forces to promote free and confidential sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing after the recent discovery of an HIV, syphilis cluster in Milwaukee. The city's biggest concern is the new numbers show the epidemic is trickling down to inner-city youth.
B-E-S-T-D on Brady Street is a free clinic mainly for gay men, however, on Tuesday, health centers across the city said they will be increasing their campaigns to help youth get tested at no cost.
"We owe it to our future, the children are our future," said MKE Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia McManus.
McManus held a joint news conference with city and state health leaders to take action on an alarming HIV/STI cluster mainly found among youth and young adults.
"The individuals who are impacted by HIV and syphilis are trending younger," said Milwaukee Director of Disease Control Angie Hagy.
Last year, the Milwaukee Health Department tested more than 125 young people as part of a social network including some students from Milwaukee Public Schools.
"76 tested positive for syphilis, HIV or both," Hagy said.
Health leaders said those most vulnerable to the latest cluster include ethnic minorities, injection drug users, women in sex trade, and men who have sex with men.
"Young men come into our organization every single day for an HIV or STI test and they are frightened so things have not really changed," said Kofi Short of Diverse & Resilient.
AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin president Mike Gifford said his organization is taking steps to provide free testing in Milwaukee schools and at clinics across the city for young adults.
"There is such great hope for people with HIV," he said. "We've got medications that allow them to live within 1 year of the life expectancy of someone who's HIV negative."
The problem is what Gifford calls the 'ifs' test. If people get tested, if they receive medication and if they take it on a daily basis.
"The risk is if they don't get access to that what they would experience is disease progression and health problems and unfortunately death," Gifford said.
Preliminary data for 2017 shows there were nearly 10,000 cases of Chlamydia in Milwaukee County. That puts Milwaukee at the top of the nation for most cases per capita. 2017 preliminary results show there were 117 HIV positive cases city-wide last year.