‘Vast Majority’ of World’s Young People Ignorant About HIV Transmission, Prevention, UNICEF/UNAIDS/WHO Report Says
The "vast majority" of the world's young people ages 15 to 24 -- the age group that accounts for 50% of all new HIV infections worldwide -- has "no idea" how HIV is transmitted or how to protect themselves from contracting the virus, according to a UNICEF/UNAIDS/WHO report released yesterday. The report, which includes survey results from more than 60 countries worldwide, is the "first comprehensive look" at the HIV/AIDS-related behavior and knowledge of young people. According to the report, more than half of the youth surveyed had "serious misconceptions" about the transmission of HIV, a "strong indicator" that the world's young people do not have access to correct information regarding the disease. "We have two dovetailing trends here that are, in large part, driving the HIV/AIDS crisis. One is that young people have sex, something the world must acknowledge as a pre-condition to mounting effective prevention programs," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, adding, "The other is that young people actually don't have the proper knowledge to protect themselves. The tragic consequence is that they are disproportionately falling prey to HIV." The report, titled "Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis," advocates a "10-step strategy" to prevent HIV/AIDS among young people that can be adapted by countries "according to their resources." The 10 steps are as follows:
- "End the silence, stigma and shame;
- Provide young people with knowledge and information;
- Equip young people with life skills to turn knowledge into practice;
- Provide youth-friendly services;
- Promote voluntary and confidential HIV testing and counseling;
- Work with young people, promote their participation;
- Engage young people who are living with HIV/AIDS;
- Create safe and supportive environments;
- Reach out to the young most at risk; and
- Strengthen partnerships, monitor progress."
Several newspapers and organizations reacted to the report's findings. Some of these responses appear below:
- According to a London Independent editorial, the report "serves to remind us ... that while Africa has been particularly badly affected by the disease, AIDS is truly a global phenomenon and is now spreading rapidly in eastern Europe and east Asia." Based on the report's recommendations, developed nations "must export to the developing and emerging world the sort of measures that have already been at least partially successful in wealthy societies" -- such as antiretroviral drugs and health education programs -- and spend "perhaps $7 to $10 billion a year" on HIV/AIDS efforts, which is a "small price to pay to save so many young lives," the editorial concludes (London Independent, 7/3).
- "This shocking global statistic shows how easy it would be for the virus to take a much greater hold amongst young people in the United Kingdom, too. ... We urge the U.K. government to prioritize sexual health now. The long-term consequences of neglecting young people's sexual health are too great too ignore," Lisa Power of the Terrence Higgins Trust said in response to the report (BBC News, 7/2).
- Advocates for Youth reports that it is sponsoring 15 young adult delegates at next week's XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona. The young people plan to use their time at the conference to educate others about the impact of HIV/AIDS on youth and to "urge world leaders to reject the misguided policies of the Bush administration, which deny teens critical information about the health benefits of contraception and limit access to reproductive health services" (Advocates for Youth release, 7/2).
- Also at the conference, international HIV/AIDS leaders and youth activists calling themselves Barcelona YouthForce will "team up" to call attention to the importance of young voices at the conference (Barcelona YouthForce release, 7/1).