Education is the key to stopping HIV

National HIV and AIDS Youth Awareness Day is celebrated annually on April 10, as a day dedicated not only to recognizing the impact of the HIV / AIDS epidemic on young people, but also what can be done to reduce the number of young people diagnosed. every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, young people between the ages of 13 and 24 accounted for one in five (or 22%) of new HIV diagnoses in 2015. A whopping 81% of those diagnoses occurred in young gay and bisexual men; 55% of those men newly diagnosed with the virus were black, 24% were Hispanic or Latino, and 16% were white. The CDC also notes that although the population of young gay and bisexual men made up the majority of new infections for 2015, estimated annual HIV infections declined by 18% from 2008 to 2014 among this population.

According to the CDC, HIV testing is particularly low among young people aged 13 to 24, compared to other age groups. In fact, only 10% of sexually active high school students in the United States have ever been tested for the virus. Even more troubling is the fact that of the 60,900 younger people living with HIV in 2013, about half (51%) had not even been diagnosed; according to the CDC, it is “the highest rate of undiagnosed HIV in any age group.” Additionally, of all age groups, this group is the “least likely” to be linked to the care they need, possibly due to lack of testing.

How can health care providers get more people tested? The answer may lie in integrating HIV testing into routine care, said Colleen Kelley, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine. Emory University. Contagion ®.

“You just have to make it a normal part of routine care, just like testing for cholesterol or diabetes, or other things that patients expect. [may be key]”She said.” If we all test all of our patients for HIV, this is what patients will start to expect, and it will not be an anomaly for them. And if people decline, I think I would explore very carefully why they decline, because it is more than likely that they decline because they have some kind of internalized stigmatized beliefs about HIV that maybe you can help them. to overcome to get HIV. test.”

There are several challenges when it comes to preventing HIV in this population. One of the biggest challenges is sexual health education. In fact, the CDC recommends that high schools teach 16 topics related to sex education, but it turns out that less than half of high schools actually comply with this recommendation. Some concerns with sex education programs that are already in place are that education does not start early enough, many programs exclude prevention information for at-risk groups (such as gay / bisexual men) and education sexuality has declined over the years.

Another challenge is for adolescents to engage in risky behaviors that increase their risk of infection. Although the CDC reports that fewer high school students reported being “currently sexually active” between 2005 and 2015, the prevalence of “risky” behavior was still high. One of these “risky” behaviors is having sex without using a condom. According to the CDC, “condom use has declined among adolescents, with more than 43% of sexually active high school students not using a condom the last time they had sex.” Additionally, the CDC notes that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) young people are often at increased risk of having health problems, as 15% of LGB students have had sex with 4 or more people in their lifetime, against 12% of high school students in general.

Another barrier to prevention is the stigma associated with HIV. “HIV / AIDS-related stigma is a complex concept that refers to prejudice, demeaning, discrediting and discrimination against people with AIDS or HIV, as well as their partners, friends, families and communities”, according to the Centers for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) at the University of California at San Francisco.

Fear surrounding the social consequences of a positive HIV test can deter people from getting tested; fear of disclosing their status to a sexual partner or that suggesting condom use could cause their partner to reject them could prevent individuals from adopting safer behaviors, and the stigma surrounding HIV and homosexuality makes It is difficult to make prevention programs more accessible to those who need them most, as many community places such as churches, businesses, prisons and schools have resisted their incorporation.

So what can be done to overcome these obstacles? The answer lies first and foremost in strengthening and expanding educational efforts.

Education in schools is essential when it comes to promoting awareness of HIV and the dangers that accompany risky behavior. Providing further education about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, encouraging students to communicate with their parents and friends about these important topics, and providing students with access to counseling and testing services are all essential to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

To this end, CDC has partnered with several national and local education agencies to:

  • Provide HIV, STD and pregnancy prevention programs based on the latest research
  • Select effective health education programs
  • Build local capacity to connect students to school-based and school-related health services
  • Encourage parents to promote a positive, safe and supportive school environment for all students

By working together to initiate educational discussions and encourage testing for all age groups, we can break stigma and get a head start in the fight against HIV.

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