The Big Picture

An HIV-positive woman, a baby at her back, stands in a Buddhist temple in Ruili City, Yunnan Province. © UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0786/Liu Jerry

For nearly three decades, HIV and AIDS have had very damaging effects on individual, families, communities and countries. Still, in recent years the world has seen some progress. There has been a reduction in the number of people that become infected with HIV each year, and the development of safe and effective drugs help millions of people living with HIV to have longer and healthier lives.

However, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Many young people do not have access to information and services that can help prevent the spread of HIV, and many programs do not reach the young people that are most affected by the disease.

Young girls are especially affected 

For a variety of reasons – cultural, political and economic – some young people are more vulnerable to infection than others. For example, girls are at higher risk in some parts of the world. This is partly because girls are more likely to be pressured into having sex and less likely to be able to control with whom, when and how they have sex. Also, social attitudes to sex and sex education may make it more difficult for girls to get the information they need to protect themselves from infection.

Other young people are likely to be infected with HIV because they inject drugs (sharing unsterilized needles is a common route for infection). They may also be more at risk because they are poor or homeless, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Young people need access to safe and friendly services 

Many young people choose not to seek support because they are worried that they will be judged by adults or health workers. For example, young injecting drug users and young people involved in commercial sex might avoid seeking support because their activities are considered illegal. Young people from sexual minorities, such as men who have sex with men, might worry about the stigma they could face if they talk about their sexual identity. Therefore it is important that all young people have access to non-judgmental and friendly services where they can be anonymous and be treated with care and respect .

The way forward 

We all have a part to play in fighting the HIV and AIDS crisis. First and foremost we must make sure everyone has accurate information about how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves. Making sure everyone can develop the skills and self-confidence to keep safe in difficult situations is also critical, as is having access to services, such as counselling, treatment and HIV testing. And all adults – guardians and official leaders – must do everything they can to make sure our communities are safe and young people are supported.

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