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Decades after its devastating spread across the country, HIV still infects thousands of Hoosiers.

In Marion County alone, about 6,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS, according to estimates from the Indiana State Department of Health

On Nov. 16, state officials joined advocates and people touched by the disease at the 8th Annual Statewide HIV Awareness Program.

What follows is summary provided by event organizers:

Local high school students and Indianapolis residents filled the audience at the Madame Walker Theatre Centerto hear actor, producer, and HIV/AIDS advocate, Flex Alexander, who was discuss how HIV affected his life after it infected and eventually killed his brother in 1997.

"That mere split-second decision to have unsafe sex...protecting yourself is the most important thing you can do," Alexander said. "That minute of indecisiveness can be the difference between life and death. Once it's done, it's done."

Indiana's numbers of those infected by the disease has continued to grow. Amy Reel, public relations director for the Indiana State Department of Health said. "In 2010 Marion County had 5, 797 adults living with HIV or AIDS."

The education of the community is the main priority and also making an impact on the youth.

"HIV/AIDS has long been known to disproportionately affect the African-American community, but its increasing prevalence in our minority youth is downright alarming," said State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin, M.D. "If even one of our kids feels better equipped to protect his or herself from contracting HIV/AIDS as a result of attending this event, then we're doing something right."

Wellness Coordinator at the Indianapolis Urban League, Deidra Coleman, was honored with the "2011 HIV/AIDS Outstanding Service Award" for her years of advocacy about the disease in Marion County.

"I am very passionate about young people making healthier choices and loving themselves so that they are able to make those choices," Coleman said.

Coleman spearheaded the organization of a program that was put together by youth in Indianapolis called I.N.Y.L.H.U.M. (I Need You to Listen, Hear, and Understand Me. The program has been active for 6 years and has reached about 5,700 students in Indianapolis.

"What made a different was having the youth sit at the table and give their input," Coleman said. "They said that there was a disconnect in communication between them and their parents. We are able to come in and get that information to them."

I.N.Y.L.H.U.M. uses 'educatainment' (a mix of education and entertainment) to make the students more receptive to the information. The program also puts this issue in perspective for the students by having a teen infected with HIV/AIDS answer their questions and tell their story.

"We show them that HIV doesn't have a look or an age," Coleman said.

Coleman said that it is amazing how this program has developed being in an abstinent based state.

"We have more schools hearing about the program and reaching out," Coleman said.

The 8th Annual Statewide HIV Awareness Program also featured performances by HIV activist and poet Devin T. Robinson, Asante Children's Theatre and the Herron High School Concert Choir.

The Program was sponsored through the collaboration of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, the Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, and other community organizations.

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Posting prepared by Aisha Townsend, NUVO intern