To the Editor:
Today is World AIDS Day and the purpose is to raise awareness. I’d hope that all Yalies already know about the difference between HIV and AIDS and how to protect themselves from infection. In fact, I think that it’s hard for us to imagine not knowing these things and so it’s difficult to grasp the scope of the awareness problem. Worldwide and in our own backyard, those who most need to know are not in the know.
We need only look to Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 25 million people are living with AIDS. In South Africa, UNAIDS estimates that 21.5 percent of adults ages 15-49 are living with HIV. Yet only 54 percent of young adults (ages 15-24) know that a healthy-looking person can have HIV. A mere one in five young adults can identify two prevention methods and reject three misconceptions. Of those young adults who report that they had high-risk sex in the last year, only 20 percent used a condom the last time they engaged in the high-risk behavior.
Clearly, awareness-raising efforts need to be stepped up. Ignorance remains despite South Africa’s “Stop AIDS, Love Life” public information campaign, which has had considerable success in raising awareness and changing behavior. But current efforts have been dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem, which consists of over 39 million people living with HIV, including nearly 5 million added in 2004.
There are many obstacles to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and the most inexcusable one is ignorance. In our own state of Connecticut, schools are required to teach about HIV/AIDS, but not about all the ways to prevent transmission (i.e. condom use). This is unacceptable when 50 percent of new HIV cases in the United States are among young people under the age of 25. Right now, New Haven schoolchildren learn all they are going to know about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS when Yale students of Yale AIDS Watch and Community Health Educators visit to teach several lessons to selected classes. Instead of leaving these children’s lives to the goodwill and limited resources of concerned campus groups, Connecticut should require comprehensive sex education.
There are many opportunities to promote awareness, through campus groups such as YAW and CHE, and through organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Connecticut and Advocates for Youth. Advocates for Youth is an organization committed to protecting the sexual health and reproductive rights of youth in the United States and abroad. If you didn’t get a chance today to sign the petition for comprehensive sex education, please do so at www.advocatesforyouth.org/petition.
Sarah Goff ’06
Nov. 29, 2004
The writer is a state organizer for Advocates for Youth.