Newspapers Examine HIV/AIDS Among Youth in Michigan, Washington State
HIV/AIDS cases among young people between ages 13 and 24 in Michigan has almost doubled from 5.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2002 to 9.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2006, according to data from the state's Department of Community Health, the Detroit News reports. An estimated 18,000 people with HIV/AIDS currently live in Michigan.
According to some experts, the fact that more than one-third of new HIV infections in the U.S. are recorded among people between ages 13 to 29 can be attributed to the mindset among youth that they are not at risk of contracting the virus. The experts add that the increase in cases in the population also is a result of effective antiretroviral drugs that have prolonged the lives of HIV-positive people and lessened awareness about HIV/AIDS, in addition to a decrease in federal funding for comprehensive sex education.
David Coulter, executive director of the Michigan AIDS Fund, which provides HIV/AIDS education, said, "The number of youth infections is disappointing but unfortunately it's not surprising." Coulter added, "A lot of the HIV/AIDS awareness that happened in the early part of the epidemic in the late '80s and '90s happened before these kids were born. We've done a much better job of providing care and treatment for those who have become infected but we don't do enough to educate people on how to prevent the virus in the first place. To reach someone 13 or 14 you have to have uncomfortable but critical conversations in schools, at the dinner table and in recreation centers to help keep kids safe. And that's not happening as often as it should."
The Detroit News also reports that a reduction in federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs has affected local organizations. For instance, the budget for the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, which receives about 60% of its funding from the federal government, was reduced from $1.2 million 10 years ago to $750,000 this year, according to its CEO Craig Covey. Consequently, awareness efforts such as billboards have had to be scaled back. However, Covey also said that school districts could do a better job of discussing HIV/AIDS. "Schools statewide are supposed to provide a comprehensive HIV program, but it's an inadequate and spotty patchwork at best of different programs based on where you live and the school resources."
According to the Detroit News, health departments agree that it takes a comprehensive approach to address the stigma surrounding poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia, which are associated with HIV/AIDS in some communities. Candice Jemison, acting director for Wayne County Disease Control, said that HIV/AIDS-related programs "really have to gear prevention and intervention to specific groups, particularly kids who have this sense that they are infallible" (Flynn, Detroit News, 9/10).
Washington State Council Examining Methods of Curbing HIV/AIDS Among Youth
In related news, the Spokane Spokesman-Review on Tuesday examined efforts by the Washington state Governor's Council on HIV/AIDS to seek advice from young people about how to prevent HIV/AIDS. According to Jason Carr, an epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health, HIV/AIDS is increasing among young people in the state, prompting the question of whether the increase is a result of unprotected sex or improved testing methods.
The Spokesman-Review reports that Spokane County recorded 37 new HIV cases in 2007, bringing the number of people living with the virus to about 380. The fastest growing age group affected by HIV/AIDS is people younger than age 25, according to the Spokesman-Review. Carr said that the rates are rising fastest in areas outside of King County, and some said such data are indicative of improved testing reaching rural areas.
Tim Hillard, a member of the council who will draft a report for the governor about how to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among young people, recently asked a youth panel if there is a belief "you can run about with scissors because there's a Band-Aid" for HIV/AIDS. According to one panelist, the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs has prevented young people from seeing HIV/AIDS as a threat or even as a difficulty for people living with the disease. Ryan Oelrich, prevention director and marketing coordinator for the Spokane AIDS Network, said that the absence of "harrowing new stories" about people in the U.S. dying from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses may make young people, especially some men who have sex with men, take risks (Stucke, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 9/10).