Dec 1, 2010

 

On this World AIDS Day, achieving an HIV-free generation must be a top priority. In many areas of the world, including the United States, youth bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In 2009, 370,000 children who became HIV-positive globally were infected by mother to child transmission (MTCT). That's 1,000 children every day. Provision of anti-retroviral medications (ARVs) to pregnant women living with HIV could prevent most of these infections, but only 53 percent of pregnant women who are HIV positive receive these drugs in low and middle income countries. In contrast, thanks to public health education and access to lifesaving ARV medications, MTCT has been virtually eliminated in the United States, and most babies are now born HIV-free. This makes the current HIV infection rate for this generation of young people in America all the more alarming: As many as 250,000 youth are living with HIV in America today. Furthermore, in 2006, more HIV infections occurred among people ages 13-29 in the United States than any other age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite considerable progress in the scientific understanding of HIV as well as the eradication of MTCT in America, the incidence and prevalence of, and misconceptions about, HIV among our youngest generation suggest that we have much work to do to effectively alter the course of the epidemic among youth.

America's youth are coming of age at a time when AIDS is considered to be a treatable disease. Unlike young people in the early days of the epidemic in the U.S., most young people today have not witnessed the deaths of peers from this illness. Complacency surrounding HIV/AIDS in America has led to a kind of AIDS amnesia, particularly among youth. The results: large numbers of young people who are unaware of their risk for infection, who have never been tested, and who take unnecessary risks with their health.

In the U.S., statistics concerning HIV/AIDS among young people are particularly startling for the most vulnerable groups. Young men who have sex with men (MSM), ages 13-24, accounted for 84 percent of HIV/AIDS cases from 2004-2007. Yet, a 2005 survey of young MSM in seven major cities revealed that only 23 percent of those who had tested positive were already aware they were infected. In 2007, African Americans, another vulnerable group, represented 17 percent of adolescents ages 13-19 in the U.S., but accounted for 72 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in this age group. Young women, intravenous drug users, and youth whose parents are living with HIV/AIDS are also at increased risk.

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