YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – December is AIDS Awareness Month. Right now, the Centers for Disease Control reports that there are just over 1 million people in the United States living with HIV/AIDS.
The Ohio Department of Health estimates that there are 470 people living with HIV/AIDS in Mahoning County. That’s an increase of about 24 from 2015.
In the Tri-county area, over 700 people are living with the disease. The Valley’s numbers fall in line with state and national trends.
The Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS ministry includes a comprehensive care center where people can get tested and receive treatment.
The center treats 320 adults and children living with HIV yearly. They say people with HIV struggle with the stigma and shame associated with the disease.
“We strive to really kind of create an atmosphere of love and acceptance for people who are HIV positive and create community for them because in many cases, they don’t feel that they are part of a community. They feel that they are alone,” said Dan Wakefield, specialist coordinator with the Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry.
Wakefield says the most effective tools to fight HIV are prevention, education, and testing. He said when people think about HIV, they are looking through the lens of how things were in the 1980s.
“It was a death sentence and it’s not anymore. People that take their medications as prescribed live a lifespan nearly comparable to those who aren’t HIV positive,” Wakefield said.
An estimated 15 percent of people living with HIV don’t know it because they haven’t been tested.
People who want to be tested don’t have to go to the Ursuline Sisters Comprehensive Care Center to get tested. They mobilize around the community. To find out future locations, call (330) 793-0434.