While HIV and AIDS have been overshadowed by other social and health issues in recent years, the global pandemic is far from over– and kids still need to learn about the dangers of HIV and effective prevention methods. New research indicates that we may be failing our kids in that aspect of their education, and that more attention needs to be paid to HIV prevention education in schools.
According to the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), “the percentage of U.S. high school students who had learned about HIV/AIDS in school dropped from 91.5 percent in 1997 to 84 percent in 2011″ (Edge).
The consequences of less emphasis on HIV/AIDS education can be seen in the limited condom use practice by high school students (just 60 percent reported using a condom in their last sexual encounter), and in the rate of young adults aged 15 to 24 contracting HIV (more than 8,000 in 2009).
HIV awareness has definitely taken a backseat to other social issues, such as gay rights, and the evidence can be found in the media and amongst celebrities. The It Gets Better video campaign that reaches out to gay and lesbian kids has been widely supported by varying organizations and celebrities, but few famous people have publicly come out as being HIV-positive since Magic Johnson did so in 1991. Much of the reason for this silence probably has to do with the fact that HIV is still stigmatized.
Getting beyond the HIV stigma
The first step to properly educating kids about HIV is to have honest, open discussions about it. Talking about HIV and AIDS just like any other disease will do a lot to get rid of associated stigma. Other important aspects of education include information on how HIV is contracted, how to prevent getting HIV, and what to do if you suspect that you are HIV positive.
Despite science’s best efforts, HIV can still lead to AIDS, a life-threatening disease. Denying kids information about HIV and AIDS is more than simply doing them a disservice–it could be potentially fatal. The number of kids still contracting HIV proves that our job isn’t over when it comes to sexual health education, and that schools and parents need to step up their game to make sure students are receiving the information they need.