By Mary Kuhlman
For more than 25 years around the globe, Dec. 1 has been a day to bring awareness and understanding about AIDS.
And to commemorate World AIDS Day, services, memorials and educational events are being held across Indiana.
Leeah Hopper, executive program director of AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist of North Indiana, says there has been an increase in the number of HIV infections among those age 30 and younger, as well as African-Americans.
She says HIV is 100 percent preventable, but some people are unaware they are infected.
"There are also people out there engaging in risky behaviors with other people and aren't using protection," she says, "sharing of the needles or unprotected sex.
"So education is just extremely important, because it's not in the news as often as it was 20 or 30 years ago."
According to the latest figures from the Indiana State Department of Health, in 2012 more than 10,700 people were living with HIV/AIDs and there were 509 newly diagnosed cases.
Hopper says things are quite different from the height of the AIDS epidemic decades ago. She says improvements in treatment are allowing those infected to live a healthy life for many years.
"When HIV first was found, there weren't any medications, and then we did get a med, but it was one med and it was killing people more than it was really helping them," she recalls. "And then people had to start taking anywhere from eight to 10 medications every three to four hours. Now we're down to just that one pill once a day."
AIDS Ministries educates about HIV and AIDS in schools, drug treatment facilities and other community centers.
Hopper says her organization talks about ways to reduce risk factors, how to stop the spread of infection and the importance of being tested.
Many facilities provide free daily testing, which she recommends over an at-home test.
"Just because not everyone knows how to administer the test properly," she explains. "You may get some false results or reading the test and you should always have somebody with you if it does come back positive just to be there as a support. "