The scourge of HIV/AIDS is 100 percent preventable by
keeping in mind some simple words of wisdom from local infectious disease
specialist Bobbi Delon.
"If it's wet and it's not yours, don't touch it without
protection," she advised a packed ballroom at the Hilton Hotel Thursday
evening. "Not just the sexy parts — needles, diarrhea ... Let's get
more people in the know so we can stomp this disease."
The Dec. 1 gathering, hosted by the Indiana Minority AIDS Coalition
Coalition, honored World AIDS Day and celebrated strides made locally against a
disease that continues to plague communities — including this one —
As of June 30, Indiana had 4,528 people living with HIV and
without an AIDS diagnosis; 5,486 people in the state are living with AIDS,
according to the most recent data available from the Indiana State Department
of Health.Of these people, 4,142
were living in Marion County — 3,356 men and 786 women.
HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that
can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which the point of
infection in which the immune system experiences severe damage. With
appropriate medication, people
"Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people
develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no
symptoms at all," according to the Centers for Disease Control.
And thus the virus continues to spread as people living with
HIV, who may appear and feel healthy for several years unaware of their
infection, continue to spread it.
Since 1981, the state has recorded the deaths of 5,742
people with HIV.
HIV/AIDS is an "equal-opportunity" killer, Delon said, noting it strikes "moms, dads, children,
old people, young people, neighbors, strangers, straight people, gay people and
people somewhere in between.
"To underplay this killer is inconceivable."
But, even as society struggles with a growing infection
rate, several speakers noted the tremendous progress in the way it approaches
treatment and eradication efforts.
Targeted testing efforts, for example, enable infected
people to take the steps necessary to prevent further transmission and to
embrace a quality of life years ahead of the people who struggled with the
disease in the '80s.
This was the case for the IMAC's
2011 Courage to Live award winner Dipuo Gloria Manamela.
In a routine series of tests administered upon her first
prenatal exam, doctors at the Magee-Womens Hospital
of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discovered Manamela's
Nearly 20 years later, Manamela works
in Merrillville, Ind., as an HIV services counselor for Brothers United. At the
IMAC event she sat radiant with pride next to her 16-year-old son John Paul,
who will graduate in two weeks and head on to Ivy Tech.
Because she gained awareness of the disease through her
test, Manamela was able to take medicine to control
the virus, preserve a high quality of life for herself
and prevent transmission to her child.
"I'm honored for him to be my date tonight," she
Underscoring the importance of ongoing testing efforts, IMAC
brochures emphasized a Centers of Disease Control statistic that one in five
people living with HIV do not know they are infected — an estimated
250,000 across the country.
Marion County recorded 192 new diagnoses of HIV without AIDS
from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2011, according to the most recent data available from
the Indiana State Department of Health. In addition, 64 patients tested
positive of AIDS upon their first diagnosis.
A number of local options are available for free HIV tests.
"Once gay men and drug users were the populations most infected
with the disease," Delon said. "Now it's
youth in their late teens and twenties and the elderly."
Indiana residents aged 13 to 29 years comprise about 45 percent of the state's estimated HIV cases, according to the state health department. The HIV infection rate among youth is nearly twice that of those aged 30 and older.
Throughout the evening's awards ceremony, speakers
emphasized that because HIV is a disease that strikes indiscriminately
throughout the community, it will take cohesive community-wide response to
achieve the "getting to zero" goal of a day where zero births and
zero deaths are marked by the specter of HIV/AIDS.
The sixth annual event, which organizers said had its
highest attendance ever, recognized the work of nonprofit service
organizations, government workers at the state and county health departments,
houses of worship, medical caregivers, researchers, educators and media.
Nationwide, about 1.2 million people are infected with HIV.
About 50,000 new infections are anticipated in the U.S. this year, according to
the CDC. Worldwide, an estimated
34 million people live with HIV/AIDS.