The Harris County, Houston Health Department is among several health departments in the state planning events for World AIDS Day on Wednesday in order to raise awareness of the disease and encourage testing, according to officials.

Themed the “Universal Access and Human Rights,” a set of AIDS Day programs will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Harris County, Houston’s Health Department’s Auditorium Conference Center.

Other events, including health fairs, candlelight vigils and arts and crafts contests are expected to be held throughout the state.

Delia Reynolds, HIV/AIDS coordinator for state Public Health Area 10, said Houston County’s event will include a candlelight vigil and observance ceremony.

The Rev. Taylor Hodges of Midland City Baptist Church and the Rev. William Slade of Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church are expected to speak at the program.

Reynolds said World AIDS Day programs have been held worldwide since 1988 and in Harris County for at least 16 years.

“Even though the event has been around for so long, a lot of people seem to have forgotten the lives it has cost. In Alabama we are seeing between 700 and 900 new cases every year. Every year nearly 2.7 million people are newly affected worldwide with 56,000 in the U.S. alone,” she said.

Sharon Jordan, assistant director of the state HIV/AIDS Division and director of the department’s Prevention Planning Program, said World AIDS Day highlights the importance of HIV/AIDS testing and brings awareness to the global epidemic.

HIV/AIDS cases in the state have steadily increased, she said.

“We recognize that HIV is affecting many people of all ages, races, sexes and also various classes. We have public health areas that get together and plan often weeklong events for World AIDS Day. During this time and throughout the year we promote making HIV testing a routine part of medical care,” she said.

“Whether it’s by way of health fairs or special events, promoting testing is one of our primary goals in order to make sure everybody knows their HIV status.”