June 1, 2011
New HIV diagnoses in Tennesseans ages 15-24 increased by 32 percent from 2005 to 2009, while cases among other age groups dropped slightly, state data show. Advocate Larry "Cowboy" Frampton thinks those figures reflect a lack of both historical knowledge and prevention information.
At a recent testing event he conducted at a Gay-Straight Alliance in Knoxville, Frampton said the "kids knew nothing about HIV" and "didn't even know that what they were doing was putting themselves at risk."
"They don't remember the '80s and '90s, when people were dropping like flies from this disease. They didn't live through it," Frampton said of youths.
Jeannie Gillian, founder of the Hope Center, which serves the Knoxville HIV/AIDS community, said youths often "have a false sense of security." The antiretroviral medicines that revolutionized treatment are mistakenly seen as a cure by some young people, who may not understand that HIV, like any virus, can mutate and develop resistance to drugs, she said.
Furthermore, HIV prevention campaigns targeting youths are not making headway. "I think our messages are just not" reaching young people, Gillian said. "They're not working."
Frampton said he is now using social media to conduct youth outreach. "I have a Facebook page, and I post daily HIV prevention messages," he said. On May 26, the Knox County Health Department was hosting an all-day collaborative workshop on how to reach at-risk groups.