'State of Emergency' vigil for those affected by HIV/AIDS

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People gathered for the 2008 vigil. Photo provided by ODAAT.

In North Philadelphia, tomorrow evening, a group of tried souls will gather for a candlelight vigil to remember loved ones and friends lost to HIV/AIDS.

Organized by the longtime recovery program One Day at a Time, the theme is "A State of Emergency." The idea categorizes the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the north central section of the city, where the program, founded by the Rev. Henry T. Wells some 27 years ago, primarily operates.

In his younger days, Wells was a drug addict. After he got clean, he set up ODAAT in his North Philadelphia home, to provide others with a path to recovery.

Now, out of its office near 24th and Lehigh, the site for tomorrow’s vigil, the group has 80 employees who help 2,500 residential clients with drug and alcohol counseling, homeless-shelter services, GED tutoring, parenting classes and HIV outreach programs.

In Philadelphia, HIV rates are five times the national average, according to the CDC.

In October 2008, the Inquirer reported that an estimated 1,400 Philadelphians are newly infected each year - on top of the more than 16,000 who are living with HIV or AIDS. And those who do not realize they have been infected are believed responsible for an outsized portion of new cases.

More than half of new infections are passed through heterosexual contact, a third are the result of men having sex with men, and just 13 percent occur from drug addicts sharing dirty needles.

Tomorrow’s vigil begins at 6 pm. There will also be speakers, refreshments, giveaways, and musical entertainment.

Says ODAAT’s president Mel Wells: "As HIV/AIDS ravages our community, while funding for prevention and care is slashed, it is important … to raise awareness about the continued prevalence of HIV, and to honor those who have lost the fight against this disease."