|HIV awareness among young people more necessary than ever|
|Ignorance can turn fatal otherwise|
|Published Wednesday, April 11, 2018 12:04 am|
Fifty-one percent of young people living with HIV don’t know they have the virus.
Today, National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, is a time to reflect on how we can ensure young people have the knowledge to prevent the spread of HIV, and to receive proper testing and treatment if they receive a positive diagnosis. In Charlotte, one of the best possible strategies to achieve this goal is to reach out to youth where many of them already are – on college campuses.
In 2015, 8,807 14- to-24-year-olds were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S., with 80 percent (7,084) of those diagnoses occurring in persons aged 20 to 24. Data collected through the National Collegiate Health Assessment last year estimates that only 34 percent of UNC Charlotte students, who typically fall in that critical age range, have been tested for HIV -- despite estimates that over 70 percent of students had sexual intercourse in the past year.
Charlotte, along with Greensboro, are both on the CDC’s list of the top 25 cities and metropolitan areas with the highest HIV rates in the country. Our communities, and especially the young people in our communities, need to take these harrowing statistics seriously.
Through our work as advocates fighting for an HIV-free generation, we have implemented countless strategies to ensure that young people know their status and have the knowledge they need about HIV and AIDS. These have ranged from presentations to our fraternities, to holding testing events on campus. This education is critically important – as we know that inadequate sexual health education is a key barrier to preventing HIV transmission among youth. Many of the strategies can be found in a new guide from the Human Rights Campaign released today, “HIV 101: A Guide to HIV Prevention, Treatment, and Care on College and University Campuses.”
UNC Charlotte is lucky to have community partners to help our students get educated on HIV and AIDS. For the past ten years, the university has partnered with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to provide free HIV and AIDS testing on World AIDS Day on December 1. The Carolinas CARE Partnership visits our Student Health Center two times per month to offer free testing by appointment. These services are invaluable to our students – providing a cost-free, accessible and convenient way to know your status. These partnerships are crucial, and I am happy our county prioritizes the health of our young people.
And while these programs are critical, we also must advocate to change policies and laws to make this education mandatory across our state and around the country. In 2014, only 41 percent of schools required students to receive instruction on HIV prevention. Having these policies helps to provide a helpful framework for decision-makers, community members, and other important stakeholders to better understand, and ultimately support, HIV interventions.
The North Carolina AIDS Action Network, a statewide HIV & AIDS advocacy and lobbying organization, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, continue to work with our legislators and policymakers to give North Carolina school systems about the importance of providing age-appropriate sex education and HIV-prevention education, while also working with local health departments across the state to advocate for expanded access to PrEP for young people, and other communities that are vulnerable to HIV – like black and Latinx populations.
While days like National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day are an opportunity to to reflect on our methods for achieving an AIDS-free generation, we know we cannot stop there. The real education for students does not come from a one-time mention of the risk, but through consistent messaging to teach young people about HIV and AIDS and giving them the tools they need to prevent infection and to manage a diagnosis.
HIV remains a major public health crisis in the United States. More than 20 million students are enrolled in colleges and universities across America. On every campus, college administrators, campus health care providers and student leaders can implement HIV policies and programs that confront the crisis and ultimately save lives.
Leslie Robinson is UNC Charlotte sexual health coordinator. Christina Adeleke Is NC AIDS Action Network communications and development coordinator.
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