Multicultural News

Damien Center seeks young adults to help with HIV outreach program

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Damien Center is looking to compile a team of people to help address a spike in HIV diagnoses in young adults.

In 2019, the Indianapolis area saw about 271 new HIV diagnoses. Of that number, 55 were young adults, according to data from the state.

The Damien Center’s representatives hope by creating its Positive Youth Action group that they can reign in those numbers. HIV still carries a stigma 40 years after the first cases were diagnosed. And while treatment options have improved, advocates said there’s no time to be lax on prevention efforts.

“HIV can be very isolating and so we want to bring it more into a community care model rather than just one person trying to fend for themselves,” said Damien Center’s youth program specialist, Evren Elliott.

HIV is spread most often through sexual contact; shared or contaminated needles or syringes; infected blood or blood products; and from infected women to their babies at birth or through breastfeeding.

The rising HIV diagnoses are happening most frequently in ages 16-24, according to the most recent data from the state. Gay men are not the only people impacted. It’s happening across the board with Black and transgender people most at risk.

“The hope is that we will engage more young people if we have the young people trying to engage them,” Elliott said.

Grant money from ViiV Healthcare is helping create the Positive Youth Action program. Over the next three years, the program hopes to train 60 young people to do outreach and advocacy work to help bring those rates down.

“If you go in somewhere and you see somebody who looks like you and you see they somehow reflect your background, you feel more comfortable in a place.”

Elliott said young people often struggle with talking openly with potential partners about if they’ve been tested or their statuses.

“That is a big part of the goal, is to get these young folks engaged, and getting their peers in here, and get their peers excited about HIV advocacy and making these things we see is tough conversations, making them really easy conversations.”

The deadline to apply for the program is Jan. 5.