HIV, a Silent Killer of Youth in Our Community

By Jesse Brooks There is a silent killer in our community. Out of the half million people living with HIV, young adults account for much of the rising numbers. Today, people under the age of 25 account for half of all new HIV infections each year. Within that group, African Americans youth account for 56 percent of those new infections. Why are our youth still getting HIV? Is it because they think that it’s not so bad anymore because of the new drugs that have made HIV/AIDS just another chronic disease? Is it because we have celebrities and athletes surviving looking healthy? Black youth are one of the new faces of AIDS in America. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 40,000 people become infected with HIV every year, with more than half of them, occurring among people under the age of 25. No matter how you chop those numbers up, African American young people are heavily over represented. We must begin to recognize HIV/AIDS as one of the leading challenges to the survival of young African Americans, but ultimately, this epidemic cannot be separated from the countless others our youth face every day. People are still dying – AIDS is the leading cause of death of African American men aged 25-44. While the threat of HIV is a danger to the lives of all African American young people, the numbers are especially troubling for certain groups in the Black community: young black men who have sex with men (MSM), and young African American women. Out of all racial groups African Americans report having sex at an earlier age than any other group. Within the racial categories, there are distinct gender differences. Black males report far more sexual activity than Black females. HIV/AIDS education needs to take place at correspondingly young ages, before young people engage in sexual behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection. Yes we’ve come a long ways from the days of purple legions, and other visibly identifiers that a person has HIV/AIDS. The facts are there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, and, yes, people are looking and living better because of the advances in drugs, but the long term effects of these drugs are still unknown. A multi-faceted approach to HIV/AIDS prevention is needed. Prevention must include individual peer, familial, school, church, and community programs to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS in young people. Adolescents need accurate age-appropriate information, including how to talk with parents or other trusted adults about sex, how to talk to potential partners about risk factors, and where to get tested, and how to use a condom correctly. Information should also include the concept that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid infection. Young women and girls must know that it only takes one partner to become infected, and that if you put yourself at risk for pregnancy, you put yourself at risk for contracting HIV. Young MSM are at high risk for HIV infection, but their risk factors and the prevention barriers they face differ from those of persons who become infected through heterosexual contact. According to a CDC study of 5,589 MSM, 55 percent of young men (aged 15–22) did not let other people know they were sexually attracted to men. We must make our homes, our schools, places of worship, places that have open and honest conversation around sex and HIV/AIDS. Silence equals death – too many of our brothers and sisters, and our babies are dying needlessly.
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