August 7, 2008
Although African Americans represent only 16 percent of U.S. teens, they represented 69 percent of all new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2005. Dr. Helen Gayle, president of CARE, said, "There is a lack of youth tailored prevention programs that relate to the youth culture."
At the young age of 19, AIDS activist Marvelyn Brown found out she was HIV positive. She said, "I didn't love myself enough to think of using a condom." And she paid a price.
More teens are sexually active than some adults want to admit. And if they don't protect themselves, they, too, might pay a high price for their risky behavior.
According to the 2007 CDC's Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, 66 percent of high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse. The survey reports that 16 percent of teens had sex before the age of 13.
Imaad Jones, a 23-year-old young men's education officer from London, says: "Youth need to learn to put on their seatbelts -- and when I say seatbelts, I mean condoms. There needs to be more distribution of condoms and classes on safe sex period."
The United States has come under criticism for requiring an abstinence-only approach that does not allow the distribution of condoms or other protection.
The Oxfam International Youth Partnership (OIYP) represents a global network of young people in 150 countries working for change in their communities. Fifteen of the 300 teens from around the world were selected to attend the international conference on AIDS in Mexico City.
George Mike Jijita, a 24-year-old action partner for the OIYP, is passionate about educating youth on HIV/AIDS. The Zimbabwe native is the project coordinator, organizing forums that speak to young males which address HIV/AIDS and build self-esteem within his community. Jijita says, "We need to talk more openly about AIDS/HIV and we need to mix education with fun."
Another group tries to do just that.
Y-Peer and MTV International, "Staying Alive" campaign focuses on "The Big Question," which is: Why, when the risks are known, are young people still having unsafe sex? The campaign includes commentary from celebrity entertainers giving their perspective on HIV/AIDS and safe sex. Y-Peer also incorporates a writing contest with a twist that will allow the winners´ story to be produced and air on MTV channels on World AIDS Day.
Fun was even evident at the international conference on AIDS.
Showcased was an array of youth-driven initiatives, including superheroes handing out condoms and candy and expressive dancing to theatric performances that focus on educating adolescents. Chutima Saisaengjan, project manager for the "We Understand Group" in Thailand said, "Letting youth express their creativity about how they feel about being HIV-positive and the surrounding stigma, builds their self-esteem, in turn allows them to pursue their dreams."
LaGloria Wheatfall will be a senior at Clark University in Atlanta this fall.