TYLER, Texas – Organizations from across Smith County came together today to shed light on the HIV/AIDS virus as a part of World AIDS Day.

"We have been battling this virus, this disease for 35 years,” said Dr. Jeanette Calhoun, Executive Director of the East Texas Cares Resource Center.

The HIV/AIDS virus affects millions around the world, including people in Smith County.

The need to understand HIV/AIDS is more important than it's ever been before, especially here in Texas following a new health advisory.

The advisory, released by the Texas Health and Human Services Department in August encourages Texas healthcare providers to enhance efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV in the wake of 16 rapidly growing clusters of HIV infections in the state.

To spread awareness about the virus, several faith leaders and organizations gathered to discuss statistics and provide information.

Yordanos Tiruneh,PhD, an Assistant Professor at UT Health Northeast works to address several aspects of the HIV care environment.

She hopes to use her prior research to bridge the information gap in Smith County.

"There are so many actors ranging from clinicians to social service organizations and really just institutions all working with HIV infected individuals,” said Tiruneh. “They don't necessarily have the mechanisms to talk to each other."

Lisa Williams, the president of Black Nurses Rock—Tyler also played a role in today's event.

"It's important to educate the community on what Black Nurses Rock does,” said Williams. “We focus on the underserved population.”

Three trees were planted today at Woldert Park as a symbol of this year’s theme to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

"The three things we wanted to focus on was ending new infections, ending the stigma and ending the isolation,” Dr. Calhoun added.

She believes testing is key in ending transmission.

"One of the things we've got to do more of is routine testing,” Calhoun said. “We cannot just do target testing.”

According to the World AIDS Day website, December 1 is used to inspire others to join the fight to end the negative impact of HIV.

The theme of today’s event was to "Increase Impact through Transparency, Accountability and Partnerships."

Today’s “World AIDS Day” event in Tyler was sponsored by several faith groups, Black Nurses Rock, East Texas Cares, the Tyler Parks and Rec Department, East Texas Chapter of Links, Inc., the Department of Community Health, UT Health Northeast and the East Texas Islamic Society.