YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Wednesday is being recognized as World AIDS Day. Local groups are using the day to raise awareness, show support and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

The Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry is sponsoring a Red Ribbon Display in Youngstown. Red ribbon lapel pins have been provided by Summit County Public Health for people to wear in support.

There are currently 800 individuals of all ages living with HIV in treatment in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Jerry Wolfe, the HIV prevention coordinator for the Warren City Health District, is a part of that number.

HIV education and prevention is a cause that hits close to home for Wolfe and is the driving force behind his career path.

“I tested HIV positive and the doctors at the time said, ‘How could you have not known?'” Wolfe said.

It was the poor treatment he received that inspired Wolfe to get involved. His goal is to make sure others have a more positive experience than him.

“It’s the stigma, is what will kill you. You need to have those hard conversations and be able to talk about it because if you can’t talk about it, you can’t prevent it,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said it’s a common misconception among younger people that the disease only affects older people. In reality, 24 percent of reported new diagnoses of HIV in 2019 in Ohio were among people aged 15 to 24, making them now the most at-risk age group to contract HIV. The information comes from the Ohio Department of Health.

“Lack of education is a real barrier. Young people are not learning the facts on how they can reduce their risk,” said Lynn Welch, a retired certified HIV/AIDS educator.

For more than 40 years, Welch has been an educator and advocate for people who are HIV positive.

“Many young people I have run into don’t even know what HIV stands for,” Welch said.

“As with all public health issues, they tend to assume that it is going to happen to somebody else, not to me,” said Brigid Kennedy, president of the Ursuline Sisters Mission.

Lack of testing is another obstacle, especially when passed to newborns.

“I know several women whose doctors never tested them because they just assumed they wouldn’t have it. They were asymptomatic for many, many years, 10 years, and ended up having children born with HIV,” Kennedy said.

For those who are HIV positive, there are treatments and even preventative medication.

“I never thought I’d see the day that we would go from seeing a horrendously deadly disease to one that people can live a long, happy, healthy life with,” Welch said.

Anyone who is sexually active is encouraged to reach out to their doctor for a test or treatment.

Amy Frederick, with the Warren County Family and Children First Council, says raising our voices to increase treatment and prevention is key.

“Talking about AIDS and HIV cannot be a one-time event, you have to keep going on and on. This is something that we should be educating throughout our entire lifespans even as adults,” she said.

Locally, just last year, five people ages 13 to 24 were referred for HIV treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 individuals have HIV and don’t know it.

A Walk of Remembrance to Wean Park took place after the HIV/AIDS presentation wrapped up on Wednesday. Then, a candlelight vigil was held by Equitas Health & Full Spectrum Community Outreach to remember those we have lost.