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Federal Plan Focuses on 'Realistic' Youth AIDS-Prevention Programs

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WebMD Health News

Oct. 2, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Policy-makers who wonder whether schools are giving teens the information they need about AIDS prevention, safe sex, and drug use should ask Tiffany Hick, a student at Atlanta's Cross Keys High School.

"School officials think the school exists outside of everything," Hick tells WebMD. "They think school is in a bubble that protects it from the real world -- but they're wrong."

But even school officials complain that their hands are tied when it comes to frank talk about AIDS. "Our biggest obstacle to AIDS prevention is the lack of information the students and parents receive," Cross Keys principal Grace Taylor tells WebMD. "There are so many nationalities and religions -- and AIDS crosses these many moral lines.

"I am an advocate of AIDS programs." Taylor says. "We talk about AIDS here -- but I don't think we do a thorough job. In terms of a curriculum, we don't have one. It's not entirely up to us as a single school -- we have to go through the school board and even the state."

Taylor, Hick, and fellow Cross Keys students and teachers on Monday became the first to hear the fighting words of U.S. "AIDS czar" Sandra L. Thurman, who chose their school as the stage from which to announce the "new American agenda" of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The sweeping policy recommendations focus on young people -- the 13- to 24-year-old age group that gets 50% of all new U.S. HIV infections, despite representing only 16% of the population.

"The numbers mean we have an AIDS epidemic in this country, just as we do around the world," Thurman tells WebMD. "Over the past six to seven years, the epidemic in the U.S. has begun to reflect the epidemic in the rest of the world. It affects youth, women, communities of color. We need to target those groups much more readily than we do now. There is still the misperception that this is a gay male epidemic."

The federal plan calls for priority funding of proven "programs that work" -- that is, scientifically validated programs that provide explicit information not only on how to postpone sex, but also on safe sex, including condom use. What the plan refers to as "untested abstinence-only programs" would not get priority for federal AIDS funds.

"We have to change the behavior of young people -- and politicians," Thurman says. "It is important to educate the decision-makers. There is still the fear that if you give youth the information they need about how to protect themselves during sex, they will then start having sex. But science shows that if you provide condoms, young people are more likely to use them during sex -- and that they are not more likely to have sex.

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