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HIV/AIDS Is "Disease of Young People"; One Youth Infected Every 14 Seconds Worldwide, UNFPA Report Says

October 9, 2003

HIV/AIDS has become a "disease of young people," as half of the estimated five million new HIV infections worldwide each year occur among people ages 15 to 24, according to a United Nations Population Fund report released on Wednesday, London's Guardian reports. UNFPA's 2003 State of the World's Population report, titled "Making One Billion Count: Investing in Adolescents' Health and Rights," found that a young person between the ages of 15 and 24 becomes infected with HIV every 14 seconds, equivalent to about 6,000 new cases every day. With nearly half of the world's 6.3 billion people under age 25, if the HIV/AIDS pandemic is left unchecked, it could significantly slow the growth of the world's population, according to the report. The world's population is expected to rise to 8.9 billion people by 2050; however, that number could be cut to about seven billion if no steps are taken to curb the epidemic, the Guardian reports (Bowcott, Guardian, 10/9). In addition, HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women -- 67% of HIV-positive young people in sub-Saharan Africa and 62% in South Asia are women. The disease is spreading fastest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 8.6 million young people are estimated to be HIV-positive, followed by South Asia, where an estimated 1.1 million young people are HIV-positive.

Poverty, Lack of Information
Poverty has fueled the spread of HIV, as many poor girls in developing countries exchange sex for school fees or to support their families (Woods, AP/Yahoo! News, 10/8). As many as four million young people become involved in sex trafficking each year, according to the report (McCarthy, Independent, 10/9). Discussing sexual behavior in many countries continues to be taboo, and a majority of young people do not know how HIV is transmitted, the report said. In Somalia, only 26% of adolescent girls have heard of AIDS, and only 1% know how to protect themselves from infection, according to the report (Wardell, AP/Newport News Daily Press, 10/8). In addition, 44 of the 107 countries surveyed did not include information about AIDS in their school curricula. As a result, young people increasingly are likely to receive information about AIDS from unreliable sources, such as the media and their peers, the report said (Guardian, 10/8). "[Y]oung people often lack the information, skills and services they need to protect themselves from HIV infection. Providing these is crucial to turning back the epidemic," the report said (Guardian, 10/9). Age-appropriate information about sexuality using the ABC prevention message -- abstain from sexual activity, be faithful to one partner, use condoms -- is essential to stopping the spread of HIV, as is increased access to voluntary counseling and testing services, according to the report (UNFPA release, 10/8).

Early Marriage, Pregnancy
Despite a shift toward later marriages, 82 million girls in developing countries who are now between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before age 18. In some countries, a majority of girls get married before age 18 -- 60% percent of girls in Nepal, 76% of girls in Niger and 50% of girls in India will be married before age 18, according to the report (Guardian, 10/9). Early marriage jeopardizes the health and educational opportunities afforded to women and their children and has made pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortions leading causes of death among this age group (UNFPA release, 10/8). The report found that 14 million girls ages 15 to 19 give birth each year. Teenage women are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s, and girls under age 16 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, according to the report (AP/Yahoo! News, 10/8). In addition, married adolescent girls are often at an increased risk of contracting HIV because their husbands are usually older men who are more sexually experienced and because they may be unable to negotiate condom usage (Guardian, 10/8).

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said, "This report is a wake-up call for governments to increase funding and expand information and services to young people. If we do not provide the investment this will be a global catastrophe" (Guardian, 10/9). The report urges governments to increase their spending to meet the goals outlined at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. Although industrialized nations pledged to fund one-third of the $18.5 billion needed for population and reproductive health services, education and other programs, UNFPA has received only half the money that is needed, according to the report, Reuters reports (Reaney, Reuters, 10/8). "Studies show that money spent to delay births to adolescents and prevent HIV infections is repaid many times over in direct savings and indirect economic gains," the report said (AP/Yahoo! News, 10/8). For example, seven nations in the Caribbean region could save $235 on average each year in direct and economic costs for each adolescent birth delayed. In addition, poor countries with an annual per capita income of $1,000 could save an estimated $34,600 for each averted HIV case, the report found (UNFPA release, 10/8).

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