National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

April 10th is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD)!

NYHAAD began in 2013 to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people, as well as highlight the amazing work young people are doing across the country to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In 2016, the CDC reported that 21% of all new HIV diagnoses in the US were youth aged 13-24. The majority of those new diagnoses (81%) occurred among young gay and bisexual men. The CDC also found that youth with HIV are the least likely of any age group to be linked to care in a timely manner and have a suppressed viral load[1].

With young people, there are some unique challenges when it comes to prevention. First and foremost is inadequate sex education in middle and high school. The CDC found that, in most states, fewer than half of all high schools teach all 19 sexual health topics recommended by the CDC. Sex education in schools overall has been declining[2]. The School Health Policies and Practices Study found that the percentage of schools in which students are required to receive education on HIV prevention decreased from 64% in 2000 to 41% in 2014[3].

Along with US citizens aged 50 or older, youths participate in multiple behaviors that put them at higher risk for becoming HIV-positive than other age groups. These includes having multiple sexual partners and a lack of knowledge about HIV prevention[4]. According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS), 39.5% of students report having had sexual intercourse and 9.7% report sexual intercourse with four or more persons during their life. Among those sexually active, only 53.8% reported that either they or their partner used a condom during the last sexual intercourse. Nationwide, only 9.3% of students reported having ever been tested for HIV (not counting tests done for blood donations). This percentage is down from 11.9% in 2005 [5].

Other challenges youths living with HIV/AIDS face include living in households with low income levels, homelessness, incarceration, or being uninsured or only having access to Ryan White Program-funded health care. These all pose barriers to achieving viral suppression[6], which is a key factor in secondary prevention. Secondary prevention focuses on those who are living with HIV with the intention of preventing transmission to those who are HIV-negative. In September of 2017, the CDC officially endorsed the U=U campaign, stating that those taking part in antiretroviral therapy (ART) who achieved viral suppression have “effectively no risk of transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.”[7]

Young people living with HIV/AIDS also deal with stigma and misconceptions. More than half (54-58%) of young people aged 18-30 surveyed in the 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey incorrectly believed HIV can be transmitted by spitting or kissing. 38% incorrectly believed HIV can be spread through everyday items such as plates, glasses, or toilets[8]. Because of these misperceptions about HIV, 51% of young people say they would be uncomfortable having a roommate with HIV. Situations like these can negatively affect the health and well-bring of young people living with HIV/AIDS because they will be less likely to get tested, disclose their status, and seek HIV care. This also means they may be left without adequate emotional support from friends and family.

But many organizations are working to change all this!

The CDC awarded nearly $11 million over 5 years to 30 Community-Based Organizations to provide HIV testing to young gay and bisexual men and transgender youth of color in order to identify previously undiagnosed HIV infections and link those who have HIV to care and secondary prevention services[9]. The National Coalition of STD Directors and Cicatelli Associates Inc. work with state and local education agencies to increase adolescent access to preventative health services. The American Psychological Association and the Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network work with state and local education agencies to establish safe and supportive learning environments for students and staff.

Caring Communities offers free and confidential HIV and STD testing to all. We provide free condoms in all office locations, as well as through various partners throughout our service area. We also provide community education opportunities to ensure the communities we serve are educated on HIV prevention and stigma. Our case management department assists those living with HIV/AIDS to overcome barriers that may prevent them from accessing care and achieving viral suppression. They also conduct health education and risk education activities with clients to educate them about secondary prevention. If you would like to find out more information about any of our services, please feel free to call us at 570-829-2700.