HIV/AIDS is a problem for young people in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 21 percent of the estimated HIV infection cases diagnosed in 2013 were under the age of 25. Many teens who are infected don’t know it. In Florida, 16 percent of all new HIV infections reported in 2014 were among persons under the age of 25.
National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD) is observed annually on April 10 to bring education and awareness to the impact HIV/AIDS has on young people. Dylan Brooks of Lantana is an ambassador to Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization and advocacy group dedicated to sexual education and HIV and STI prevention. As an ambassador, Brooks was chosen to speak at a congressional briefing in Washington DC on April 10 about NYHAAD along with other ambassadors from across the country.
This year’s theme for NYHAAD is “Young, Free, and Positive- Ensuring All Young People Thrive” and the discussions will be focusing on how HIV/AIDS impacts young people of color and the impact stigmatization and criminalization have on our communities. Efforts are also being made throughout South Florida to reduce the numbers of infected youth. Compass LGBT Community Center in Lake Worth is one of them.
“At Compass, we’re taking it beyond the numbers and making it known with our annual event ‘Between the Sheets,’” Brooks said. “Where we not only encourage youth to get tested but also educate young people about how they can prevent the transmission of HIV. This event will be on April 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in recognition of National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.” Compass is located at 201 North Dixie Highway Lake Worth, Florida 33460.
In addition, Compass is partnering with Planned Parenthood and Palm Beach County Youth Leadership Council (PBCYLC) to have an intimate “jeopardy themed” sex talk. Comprehensive sex education is failing to educate our youth about healthy sex practices, relationships and STIs. More specifically, LGBT youth do not have an outlet to discuss issues without fear of judgment, where they can be safe and have open, honest conversations while receiving accurate information about sexual health.
Latinos Salud, with offices in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties is another. “Our main youth programs are SOMOS (which means “We Are!”) in Broward, and Miami Mpower in Miami-Dade,” said Stephen Fallon, Executive Director of Latinos Salud. “They serve gay Latinos ages 18 to 30.” Each program utilizes socialized education methods. That is, younger gay guys plan and stage their own large and small events that are designed to be fun and popular. Yet each event also includes education about reducing HIV/STD risks, with staff offering immediate HIV and STD testing, as well as support services to help any of our younger clients connect to care or stay in medical care.
Today’s young people make up the first generations who have never lived in a world without HIV and AIDS. NYHAAD serves as a reminder that investing in young people's health and education is a critical step to achieving an AIDS-free generation. It also provides an important reminder that we all need to know the basic facts about HIV transmission, testing and prevention. It’s also an important call to get tested. The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care.