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Youth and HIV/AIDS Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ch.Dhanunjaya Rao, India Jul 9, 2004
Health   Short Stories
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The HIV/AIDS epidemic is reaching beyond high risk groups into general population with latest data suggesting that Andhra Pradesh has one of the fastest growing trends in the country (with infections doubling over 3-4 years in same areas). Despite the evidence that over half of the new infections are occurring among the young people under 25 years of age. There is still some people believe that young people do not get HIV epidemic. However, young people’s vulnerability is closely connected to their experiences of faster rates of physical growth, modernization and the influence of media, which largely provokes them to experiment. The vulnerability is further enhanced by the lack of reliable information and guidance on how to protect them-selves from HIV. They share their misconceptions with peers and often follow misleading or plain myths. They have less access to official information and media. The ‘knowledge gap’ among young women 15-19 years old varies across the districts. In high HIV prevalence districts such as Warangal, overall awareness about HIV/AIDS is high (80%) but only 46.5% know 2 methods of HIV prevention. In lower prevalence district such as Medak, overall levels of awareness of HIV/AIDS in the same age group are much lower (51.1%). Of these, only 15.8 % know 2 methods of prevention.

There has been a major effort to launch targeted interventions for HIV prevention with groups that are known to practice high-risk behaviour (truck drivers, sex workers and their client’s etc). Relatively few interventions however have been aimed at Young People. Yet evidence from around the world suggest that bringing about change among young people is vital in ensuring that future cohorts of young adults have the information and skills needed to protect themselves from infection. This goes beyond information and involves issues closely related to growing up (self esteem; the ability to make sound decisions; resist peer pressure; and more broadly self-determination).

HIV/AIDS has become a disease of young people, with young adult’s aged 15-24 accounting for half of the some 5 million new cases of HIV infections identified worldwide each year. Yet, young people often lack the information, skills, and services they required protecting themselves from HIV infection. Providing these is crucial to reverse the epidemic.

• Towards the end of 2001, an estimated 11.8 million young people aged 15-24 were living with HIV/AIDS, one third of the global total of people living with HIV/AIDS.
• Only a small percentage of these young people knew that they are HIV-positive.
• The United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population 2003 reports that nearly half of the world’s six billion people are under the age of 25, including subsets of 1.2 billion adolescents (those aged 10 to 19) and one billion youth (those aged 15 to 24).

Today’s young people run the highest risk of HIV infection, and represent the greatest challenge for the prevention of new infections. Currently, half of all new HIV infections occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24, which translate to 6 young people becoming infected by HIV every minute which comes to a total of nearly 12 million young people living with HIV/AIDS. Many are likely to die of AIDS before they reach 35. If young people are still the “hope of the future,” they clearly need to be major beneficiaries of efforts to prevent and respond to HIV/AIDS.

Definition of Young People
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines “young people” as those aged 10 to 24. This article will generally refer to the subset of young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Contributing Factors
A combination of social, Culture, Biological, and Economic factors help fuel the AIDS pandemic:

Young people’s vulnerability is an important reason for focusing HIV prevention and care efforts on those under the age of 25. Most people begin sexual activity during adolescence, with many having sex even before the age of 15. For example, in studies conducted recently in Brazil, Hungary, and Kenya, indicates more than 25 percent of boys aged 15 to 19 reported to have engaged in sexual activity before turning 15. A study carried out in Bangladesh revealed that 88 per cent among unmarried boys and 35 percent among unmarried girls in urban areas had sex before the age of 18. The risk of HIV transmission is linked not just to the fact that young people are having sex, but to their lack of knowledge, skills and their lack of access to condoms in protecting themselves. Lack of experience also increases incidence of young people’s vulnerability to HIV infection. In Thailand, 43 per cent of young women participating in a study reported having had sexual intercourse, beginning on average at the age of 17. Many of the women reported having unprotected intercourse, undergoing coerced sex, low usage of contraceptives, and high usage of drugs and alcohol. Despite clear evidence of sexual activity among young people, traditional biases commonly preclude them from discussing sex with their parents, relatives, friends, teachers, or counsellors. For this reason, they often hold misconceptions about how to protect themselves against HIV infection and how the virus is transmitted. Drug use often begins during adolescence, and constitutes a further vulnerability to HIV infection. Half of Nepal’s injecting drug users are between 16 and 25 years of age. The incidence of HIV among injecting drug users in Nepal increased from 2 percent in 1995 to almost 50 percent in 1998. The Russian Federation and China also have high rates of HIV infection among those who inject drugs.

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