AUSTIN, Ind. (WISH) – A city thrust into the difficult task of controlling an HIV epidemic is using Dec. 1, 2015 as a turning point in that fight.
World AIDS Day is recognized on that date, and the city of Austin joined in on that honor. The special day has been recognized for 27 years. It raises awareness on the deadly disease and the virus that causes it, HIV.
Austin, Indiana joined in that recognition not just to honor the lives the disease has claimed, but take a stand in stopping it. The event, which featured a vigil and march, was organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and Foundations Family Medicine.
State Rep. Terry Goodin was a guest speaker. He opened by saying that if you had told him a year ago he’d be speaking at a World AIDS Day event, he would have thought he’d been in Indianapolis or Louisville.
The HIV epidemic undoubtedly scared the people of Scott County, but their journey to stop it has left them proud.
The candles in their hands didn’t just brighten the night, they shined through the darkness that has covered their town for several months.
“Let me tell you folks, HIV and AIDS can happen to anyone, any race and any walk of life,” said Rep. Goodin.
It happened in Scott County, where an HIV epidemic fueled by drug abuse and needle sharing infected more than 180 people.
“What was once thought to be a disease that impacted only the cities, we found out very harshly that that’s not the case,” he said.
But something the area also learned was where to find help and how to help itself.
HIV testing was encouraged and still continues thanks to mobile testing unit run out of a large van.
Two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control researchers gathered information from 100 people who used the controversial needle exchange program from April 6 to June 6. They said the number of people who admitted to sharing needles dropped by 85 percent.
“We came from a time when we knew nothing and now people are getting educated and they’re getting help,” said resident Debbie Mullins
Mullins and others said much of that education and help is thanks to the AHF, and they say with the foundation’s continued support and the heightened awareness people now have, preventing the loss of life, not just honoring it, has the upper hand.
“As the year gets close to ending here I don’t know what we would be doing if it wasn’t for the people that’s came to the aid of Austin and really come in to assist us in our many, many needs,” said Douglas Campbell, Austin’s mayor.
24-Hour News 8 talked to an AHF rep off camera. He said the foundation does outreach work in more than 30 countries around the world.
But he says there were several lessons learned fighting the epidemic in Scott County. He it made AHF put a higher focus on rural America. He said the organization also created a task force to research the connection between opiate drug abuse and the spread of HIV.
Lastly, he pointed to the mobile HIV testing unit as a useful prevention tool, especially in smaller communities.