As we work to achieve an AIDS-free generation, advocating for young people must be central to our work -- a subject that we need to place top of mind during this back-to-school season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people under age 30 represent approximately four of every 10 new HIV infections each year. While the risk of HIV is elevated for all Black adolescents and young adults, young Black gay and bisexual males live in the bull's eye of the virus. The rate of new HIV infections among Black MSM ages 30 and younger skyrocketed by 48 percent between 2006 and 2009.
HIV's spread among Black teens and twenty-somethings of all sexual orientations has been fueled in part by because our society has failed to provide them with adequate education about their sexual health. Too few adolescents obtain the information about safe sex and STDs, including HIV, that they need because their states or communities will not fund sex education or require that abstinence-only -- which has been proven not to work -- be taught.
In addition to doing a better job in schools, we must focus more on pregnant young women and their partners to help prevent mother-to-child transmission, which can occur during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or breastfeeding. Early HIV treatment is vital to this effort. Without it, some 15 to 30 percent of babies born to HIV-infected women will acquire HIV during pregnancy or delivery and an additional five to 20 percent will become infected through breastfeeding.
Community-health organizations can help teach HIV prevention to young people and provide referrals to medical professionals for anti-retroviral treatments and other components of care for those who test HIV-positive. It's vital that we support them.
But nothing is more important to improving access to appropriate healthcare than fully implementing the Affordable Care Act, which will deliver health coverage to more than 30 million people who are currently uninsured, including young mothers and families with children. Indeed young adults were among the very first beneficiaries of healthcare reform, when they became eligible to stay on their parents' health-insurance plans until they turn 27.
We have achieved reductions in infection rates among newborn children and older people. Now, it's time to take care of our future by acting on behalf of adolescents and young adults who need access to information, prevention, and treatment. By doing this we can take steps to provide them the safe and AIDS-free generation that they deserve.