Focus on Youth ‘Crucial’ to Future HIV Prevention Efforts, Hopkins Report Says
HIV prevention efforts must do "much more to reach young people right away" if the HIV/AIDS epidemic is to be contained, a report, titled "Youth and HIV/AIDS: Can We Avoid Catastrophe?" and published in the latest issue of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health's Populations Reports, states. According to UNAIDS statistics, 11.8 million young people have HIV/AIDS, and that figure represents "just 10% of the eventual impact." According to the report, the epidemic is worst in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than eight million young people, two-thirds of them women, have HIV/AIDS. Women are more likely to become infected at a younger age -- 10 years earlier than men on average, the report states.
Hopkins researcher Karungari Kiragu writes that in some countries it may "already be too late to avoid catastrophic numbers of AIDS deaths." Life expectancy is expected to drop to 30 years in some places by 2010 due to HIV/AIDS, and in the worst affected countries, "little can be done" to reduce the numbers of deaths in the near future because of the already high infection rates among youth, the report notes. For example, in Botswana, 88% of 15-year-old boys are predicted to die of AIDS-related complications if infection rates remain constant. Even if the risk could be reduced by 50% by 2015, the percentage of AIDS-related deaths would only decrease to 78%, according to the report, as those already infected would continue to spread the virus. However, if large numbers of young people changed their sexual behavior, the epidemic could be slowed. The report states that national strategic approaches, "not just more projects," are necessary to contain the epidemic. The report also makes the following recommendations:
- Increased political and financial support for HIV/AIDS prevention among youth in developing countries: Ninety-five percent of those with the virus live in the developing world, but 95% of HIV/AIDS resources are spent in industrialized nations.
- Increased sex education and communication: Studies have shown that school-based sex education programs delay the onset of sexual activity and increase condom usage without increasing sexual activity levels.
- More "youth-friendly" health and social services: Services that are not welcoming of young people may cause many to forego health care and counseling.
- Increased attention to causes of youth vulnerability: Program initiatives need to address the "cultural practices and economic dependence" that put young people, particularly young women, at risk for HIV (JHU release, 12/10).