I left my position of grantwriter and public affairs officer for a large HIV/AIDS service organization in 2010, and I am disheartened by a story on CNN this week about the increase in HIV rates in young people:
Almost a quarter of new HIV cases are seen in young people, and more than half of them don’t know they’re infected, says a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
According to the report, more than 12,000 new cases occurred in young people aged 13 to 24 in 2010, and close to 60% of them did not know their HIV status.
“That so many young people become infected with HIV each year is a preventable tragedy,” wrote CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden in the report.
What this tells me is that young people are not using condoms. They’re spreading, and being infected with, HIV disease through oral, vaginal and anal sex, or intravenous drug use. It tells me that abstinence only sex education in schools continues to NOT work. It tells me that these young people are not learning the biology of the spread of disease at home or at school. It tells me that there’s an information fatigue in these great United States, where we are afforded everything, about condom usage, reproductive responsibility and planning, and STD-prevention. Yet right this very moment, over 1.2 million people in the US are living with HIV Disease.
Few babies are born HIV positive any more, which means that these young people are contracting this communicable disease. Prevention is actually very simple: wear a condom EVERY time you have sexual intercourse, either vaginally or anally. Choose your partners wisely and exchange sexual histories BEFORE you engage in any sexual activity … and better yet, participate responsibly and safely in a monogamous relationship. GET TESTED REGULARLY … KNOW YOUR STATUS. Do not share needles if you are an intravenous drug user–which, I should not have to stress, you need to stop/never engage in to begin with. If you are, then ask about needle exchange programs in your community. If you are a pregnant mother with HIV disease, there are options to help prevent the spread of HIV through childbirth and through breast milk to your child.
Remember: if you don’t have HIV disease, then you need to learn how to not get it. If you have HIV disease, then you need to learn how to not spread it. Prevention is the key to continuing to reduce the number of new HIV infections in your community, the US, and in the world.
If your church congregation is not involved in HIV ministry, then go to your pastor and ask why not. People living with HIV disease are not bad; they have not all participated in risky behavior that brought on their infection. Ask the countless number of adults who’s spouses are unfaithful and fail to use condoms in the process; ask they number of young people who have yet to “go all the way” who become infected. HIV spreads through secretions in semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk; through needles (intravenous drug use, accidental needle sticks, etc.). It can infect and affect every single person on the planet; it is blind to race, culture, religion, and creed. It is a disease of the least: affecting the people who have the lease money, the least secure housing, the least nutrition, the least money, the least health … the least education.
Like the Prez says: “Creating an AIDS-free generation is a shared responsibility.“ Talk to your children, even though the conversation will be uncomfortable and probably embarrassing. Teach them to know why they will or won’t wait … and it has to be more than “I said so,” or “Jesus said so.” Give them the facts; our kids are smart, they’re savvy, and they’re more mature than you think they are. Equip them to have the real scientific, biological facts on their side. You can do it!
- AIDS.gov | US Statistics
- World Health Organization | HIV/AIDS
- CDC | HIV Among Young
- The White House | Presidential Proclamation 2012
- UNAIDS | The Joint United Nations Programs on HIV/AIDS
- NIH News | The National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services
- POZ | POZ Magazine
- Kids Health dot org | Teen Health – HIV & AIDS
- CDC | Got Questions about how HIV is transmitted?
- The Body | The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource