Young Australians did not experience the hard-edged "grim-reaper" AIDS television campaign of more than two decades ago, and they do not connect their own behaviors to infection risk, an AIDS expert said on World AIDS Day.
Last year, there were 995 new HIV diagnoses in the country, down slightly from 1,051 new diagnoses in 2007. However, the 2008 figure is still about 40 percent higher than new diagnoses for 2005, said Bill Bowtell, director of the Lowy Institute's HIV/AIDS project.
Along with the grim-reaper campaign, in which a skeletal figure knocked down human bowling pins, politicians at that time committed resources to HIV prevention policies including needle exchange and condom promotion, Bowtell said. But Australians ages 15-24 were not around for these efforts, he said.
"If you don't see HIV in your peer group, you think it's gone away and therefore you don't need to take any precautions," Bowtell said. "So people tend to have more unprotected sex. But the more people there are that think that, the bigger the problem will become. So you shouldn't have sex without a condom."
In some schools, sex education is still inadequate to achieve HIV prevention, Bowtell said. In particular, "people make the entirely ridiculous assumption that you can tell young people that abstinence is the only way to go. If they don't have sex they won't get HIV," he said. "We have a responsibility to tell the truth to young people and to advocate the things that we know will work."