According to an alarming new finding, the vast majority of the world’s young people have no idea how HIV/AIDS is transmitted or how to protect themselves from the disease, according to a United Nations report released today. Nonetheless, the study found that adolescence is when the majority of people become sexually active.
These trends, which highlight why HIV/AIDS spreads so quickly, are included in a landmark report, Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis. The report, produced by UNICEF, UNAIDS, and the World Health Organization, is the first comprehensive look at HIV/AIDS behaviour and knowledge among young people aged 15 to 24. It also includes the most current HIV prevalence rates for the age group by country.
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“We have two overlapping trends here that are driving the HIV/AIDS crisis. One is that young people have sex, which the world must acknowledge before launching effective prevention programs “UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy stated. “The other issue is that young people lack the necessary knowledge to protect themselves. The tragic result is that they are disproportionately susceptible to HIV.”
The report emphasizes the importance of young people in the HIV/AIDS epidemic: they are both the hardest hit by the disease and the key to overcoming it. Nonetheless, strategies for responding to the epidemic generally ignore young people.
The UN organizations that released the report demanded an unprecedented political commitment to increase the financial and human resources needed to fight HIV/AIDS. This effort must focus on working with young people to educate them about HIV and how to avoid infection.
Overall, surveys from 60 countries show that more than half of young people aged 15 to 24 have serious misconceptions about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, indicating that they are not getting the right information. In some countries most vulnerable to the virus, as few as 20% of young people have the necessary knowledge to protect themselves. As a result, people aged 15 to 24 account for half of all new infections today.
“It is clear that young people lack the knowledge and resources to protect themselves from HIV,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot. “6000 young people are infected with HIV every day. Each of these infections is preventable. Prevention is both cost-effective and feasible: protecting a young person who is absent from school can cost as little as $8 per year. In every country where HIV transmission has been reduced, the most dramatic reductions have occurred among young people.”
The following are some of the report’s key findings:
HIV/AIDS education is lacking among young people. More than 80% of young women aged 15 to 24 in countries with widespread HIV epidemics, such as Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, and Sierra Leone, lack adequate HIV knowledge. Although 99 per cent of girls in Ukraine had heard of AIDS, only 9 per cent could name three ways to avoid infection.
Unmarried boys and girls are sexually active before age of 15 in many countries with high HIV prevalence rates. More than a quarter of boys aged 15 to 19 in Gabon, Haiti, and Malawi reported having sex before age 15.
Proper condom use and other preventive behaviours, such as abstinence, must be taught at a young age. Only 45% of boys aged 15 to 19 in Burkina Faso reported using a condom with a non-marital partner, compared to 64% of young men aged 20 to 24. In Malawi, the rates were 29% and 47%, respectively. According to a 1999 Ukrainian survey, only 28% of young women aged 15 to 24 used a condom during their first sexual encounter.
Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to infection, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to estimates, more than two-thirds of newly infected 15 to 19-year-olds in this region are female. In Ethiopia, Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, five to six girls are infected for every 15 to 19-year-old boy.
Young People Are Critical to Overcoming Pandemic
The report emphasizes that in countries where the spread of HIV/AIDS is subsiding or declining, such as Thailand and Uganda, it is primarily due to the provision of knowledge, tools, and services to young men and women for them to adopt safe behaviours. According to the report, there is a strong link between what young people know and how they act, and a safe and protective environment is critical for them to develop the skills needed to avoid infection. Furthermore, it states that extra efforts are required to reach vulnerable young people, such as injecting drug users and commercial sex workers.
“Young people have unquestionably demonstrated that, when given support, they are capable of making responsible choices to protect themselves, and they can educate and motivate others to make safe choices,” said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The report outlines ten preventive measures that countries should implement:
Put an end to the silence, stigma, and shame. Give young people knowledge and information. Give young people life skills so they can put their knowledge into practice. Offer youth-friendly services. Encourage HIV testing and counselling that is both voluntary and confidential. Work with young people and encourage their participation. Involve young people living with HIV/AIDS. Make your surroundings safe and welcoming. Reach out to the most vulnerable young people. Partnerships should be strengthened, and progress should be tracked. A Statistical Foundation for a Quick and Effective Response
The report is built around two key statistical tables. The first displays data on infection rates, school attendance, knowledge levels, and sexual behaviour from almost every country. A second table provides even more detailed information on HIV knowledge and behaviour in 60 countries with an HIV prevalence of 1% or higher. The data are from 1999 or later and provide a baseline for the next ten years.
The new statistics will enable all those fighting HIV/AIDS to measure their progress toward meeting global goals and targets. These were established at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001 and reinforced at the Special Session on Children in May 2002.
The following are the primary prevention goals:
“To reduce HIV prevalence among young men and women aged 15-24 by 25% in the most affected countries by 2005, and by 25% globally by 2010.”
“By 2005, ensure that at least 90% of young men and women aged 15 to 24 have access to the information, education (including peer education and youth-specific HIV education), and services required to develop the life skills required to reduce vulnerability to HIV infection.”
What could be a nursing diagnosis related to lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS in high schoolers?