PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Since 1988, December 1st has marked a special meaning in the topic of global health – signifying World Aids Day.

Central Illinois Friends and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc are just two local organizations that joined forces Wednesday night at the Tri-County Urban League to help raise awareness of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

World AIDS Day is a great way for us to remember our past, celebrate our present, and recognize how far we’ve yet to go in this battle against the HIV epidemic,” Deric Kimler, Executive Director of Central Illinois Friends, said.

Leaders with both organizations discussed stats on how the viruses affect the local population and ways to help curb the infection rate. Dozens of community members came out to the event to hear the stats, share their stories, and work toward solutions.

Kimler said one of the goals Wednesday night, along with providing information and promoting testing, was to try to end the stigma that someone can’t be infected just because they aren’t showing symptoms.

“If you contract it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to show symptoms,” Kimler said. “The only way we can curb this epidemic is if we get people tested and those that test positive get in treatment.”

He said the United States leads the industrialized world in sexually transmitted infection rates, and Illinois is one of the top states for STIs.

“Illinois is 12 in the United States and Peoria County is number one,” Kimler said. “McLean County and Tazewell County are also in the top ten.”

Kimler said one in seven people living with HIV don’t even know it. He said shining a light on the issue and encouraging testing and more education is key.

“Tonight is healing, it’s remembering,” Kimler said. “But is also educating to be able to get out and tell people to get tested, get in the know, and do better.”

Mary Peterson, Vice President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Peoria Chapter, agreed with Kimler’s stance on needing more education on the topic in the hopes of saving more lives.

“We really need to be aware of the stats of how that, in terms of our community, plagues and how it decimates our community and how it spreads because we don’t know,” Peterson said. “So we really need to increase the awareness and the education.”