HIV and Youth
HIV and AIDS and Young People
Young people remain at the centre of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and potential for change. They have grown up in a world changed by AIDS but many still lack comprehensive and correct knowledge about how to prevent HIV infection. This situation persists even though the world has agreed that young people have the human right to education, information and services that could protect them from harm.
Young people are disproportionately affected in the HIV pandemic. They face the economic and social impact of HIV and AIDS on families, communities, and nations, and they must be at the centre of prevention actions. Where young people are well informed of HIV risks and prevention strategies, they are changing their behaviour in ways that reduces their vulnerability. For example, in several countries, targeted education has led to delayed sexual debut and increased use of condoms resulting in a decrease in HIV prevalence in young people. Yet efforts to increase HIV knowledge among young people remain inadequate.
Why focus on young people?
Young people are at the centre of the global AIDS epidemic. Of the 1.7 billion young people worldwide, 5.4 million are estimated to be living with HIV (2007). About 40 per cent of new HIV infections are among young people. This age group also has the highest rates (over 500,000 infections daily) of sexually transmitted infections excluding HIV. Young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection for social, political, cultural, biological, and economic reasons.
Whatever their circumstances, in order to protect themselves against HIV, young people need:
- Youth-friendly health services
- A safe and supportive environment
Factors contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is caused by a virus known as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). But there are social and economic conditions that make it more likely that certain people will contract HIV.
Lack of education and information:
There are many reasons why people may not be able to get an education. Some lack money for school fees. Some may experience discrimination for example, education may not be considered important for girls, or ethnic minorities may not have access to education in their own language. Without access to education, and without literacy skills, people may not learn how to prevent HIV infection, which may occur through sexual contact, sharing drug paraphernalia, or mother-to child transmission.
Inadequate health care:
Many people learn about HIV prevention from their health care provider. But for those who lack insurance, money to pay for health care and drugs, or who live too far from a clinic, it may be difficult to get information about HIV prevention, or to obtain adequate care if they become ill.
The poor are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because they are less likely to be educated about prevention. If they cannot afford adequate food, they may become malnourished, making them more vulnerable to infection. They are also less likely to be able to afford medical care and drugs if they do become infected.
People who face discrimination whether on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, race or other factors often find it difficult to obtain jobs that will keep them out of poverty. They may be less likely to go to school or complete school, and may have less access to health care, making it less likely that they will know how to protect themselves from HIV infection.
In many countries, girls and women have less social status than boys and men. They may be denied the right to go to school or complete their education. They may have little or no choice over who they marry, and may be forced into having sex against their will. When women are not able to control their own bodies or resist pressure to have sex, they are more vulnerable to HIV infection.
For low-income women with little education, job opportunities may be severely limited. For some, prostitution may be the only way they can support themselves and their families. Women who have sexual contact with a number of men are at greater risk of contracting HIV, especially if they are unable to insist that the men use condoms.
In countries that experience war and armed conflict, education and health care systems may be disrupted, depriving citizens of information needed to prevent HIV infection, and treatment for those who are infected.
Prostitution often increases in conflict zones, as other ways of earning a living may not be possible. And rape is often used by occupying forces to dominate or demoralize; this makes the spread of HIV more likely.
Effective strategies for HIV prevention among young people
No single strategy will work to reduce HIV/AIDS infection among young people. However, research has shown that culturally competent, honest programs, that include information about abstinence, contraception, and condoms, can be effective in helping youth reduce risk behaviors. In addition, open and honest parent-child communication about HIV and its prevention can aid youth in making good decisions. Finally, resources must be directed at understanding the epidemics impact on youth; at remedying the socioeconomic disparities which contribute to the epidemic.
Protecting the Health of Women and Girls
When AIDS emerged in the 1980s, it mostly affected men. But today women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV worldwide. Over the past two years, the number of HIV-positive women and girls has increased in every region of the world, with rates rising most rapidly in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa, 76 per cent of the young people (aged 15-24 years) living with HIV are female.
Most of the women who suffer from HIV/AIDS are in the prime of their productive lives. Simply being identified as HIV positive may result in discrimination, gender-based violence, unemployment, abandonment or the loss of other human rights and freedoms.
The death of women from AIDS deprives families and communities of their love, care, resourcefulness and enterprise. The epidemic affects young and old alike. It injures those who fall ill and those who survive from a teenager who barters sexual favours for school fees to a grandmother who toils to care for a houseful of orphans.
The feminization of the epidemic brings into sharp relief the inequalities that shape people's behaviour and limit the options women have to protect themselves. Many women are very vulnerable to HIV even though they do not practice high-risk behaviour. In some places, marriage itself is a risk factor.
Key UNFPA actions
Advocacy for the health and rights of women and girls has long been a major part of the work of UNFPA. As a leader in HIV prevention and in sexual and reproductive health, UNFPA works to reduce the impact of the epidemic on women and girls by:
Promoting gender equality Empowering women to exercise their full panoply of human rights Reducing the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health, including to commodities such as male and female condoms Working to end all forms of violence against women, and other practices that put women and girls at risk, such as early marriage Preventing mother-to-child transmission Advancing the rights and sexual and reproductive health of women living with HIV Involving men to change behaviour that puts their partners at risk Leveraging the power of partnership
UNFPA is part of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a worldwide network of civil society groups, governments, UN agencies, and concerned citizens who have come together to make the AIDS response work better for women. A dynamic, diverse, but coherent alliance, the Coalition is dedicated to empowering women to take control of their own lives in a world with AIDS. The alliance:
Builds awareness of the increasing global impact of AIDS on women and girls Helps meet a series of ambitious international targets; to support the wider global AIDS response Improves prevention activity for women and girls Addresses severe societal and legal inequities which compound the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls
UNFPA, along with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Young Positives, co-convene the GCWA thematic area on HIV prevention in young women and girls.
SOURCE: UNFPA, INTER CONNECTIONS 21