The following was written by Besh Gichuhi for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department blog:
April 10th is National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. That creates a great opportunity to talk about HIV/AIDS with our youth.
In 2017, 21 percent of new HIV cases were among youth aged 13-24. Four out of five youth diagnosed with HIV were 20-24. Between 2016-2018, youth accounted for 12 percent of new HIV cases in Pierce County.
Some things contributing to youth HIV:
- Lack of awareness: Many students are not getting the sex education they need. When they do, it starts too late.
- Risky behaviors: Multiple sex partners, low testing rates, substance abuse and lack of condom use.
- Higher rates of STD: Youth have some of the highest STD rates in the country. The presence of another STD increases the odds of getting or giving HIV.
- Stigma and misconceptions: There is still too much HIV/AIDS stigma. It stems from fear, ignorance and lack of education. This leads to isolation and lack of support, which negatively impact young people’s health.
The good news is that HIV is preventable. So, what can we do?
- Advocate for better education: We need our schools to teach students about HIV and other STDs. This creates awareness and makes testing more likely
- Offer Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk youth: PrEP is a daily pill that reduces the chances of getting HIV by 90 percent.
- End the stigma: We need to normalize conversations about HIV and other STDs. We all have a role to play in encouraging healthy sexual behavior. Sexual health is part of what makes us whole. It should not be the elephant in the room.
Besh Gichuhi is a public health nurse at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.