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HIV Prevention Programs Reach Youth

Sex Education and Multimedia Campaigns Can Prevent Spread of AIDS
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 17, 2006 (Toronto) -- Sex education classes that go beyond reproductive anatomy and empower young people to just say "no" to unprotected sex are among the best ways to prevent HIV infections among the 15- to 24-year-old set, according to a new World Health Organization report.

Multimedia campaigns with simple messages and youth-friendly health facilities with outreach programs have also been proven to boost condom use and reduce risky behaviors, says David Ross, PhD, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who worked on the report.

The report, released here at the XVI International AIDS Conference, comes at a time when as many as 5,000 young people ages 15 to 24 are infected with HIV each day. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of all new infections are among young people, with girls particularly affected; globally, more than 10 million of the 40 million people living with HIV fall into this age group.

Programs That Work

To find out what works -- and what doesn't -- the researchers reviewed more than 80 studies of school-based, health service-based, and multimedia programs aimed at young people in developing nations.

Many of the programs that got the highest grades need to be beefed up in the U.S. as well, says Judy Auerbach, PhD, of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Foundation for AIDS Research.

"We still have a problem reaching American youth with our government's policy of abstinence-only until marriage," she tells WebMD. "The report tells us there is a whole lot more that should be scaled up and funded."

Sex Education

Since most young people are attending school when they begin having sex, the classroom offers the perfect opportunity for targeted prevention programs, the report says.

But traditional courses and guidelines won't do the trick. In order to have a substantial effect, "we have to go beyond reproductive anatomy and how HIV is transmitted in the body," Ross tells WebMD.

"We need role-playing that gets at the nuts and bolts of the issue. We have to ask young people to imagine themselves in a [potentially risky] situation. How would a young woman, for example, turn down an older man who wanted to have sex without a condom," he says.

Just as important is putting the face of youth on the epidemic, Ross says. "We have to get kids in the classroom to think, 'hey, this could affect me.' Too many young people think HIV is something that's 'out there,' that it is someone else's problem."

Youth-Friendly Health Facilities

The experts called for more clinics where young people can get information and counseling about HIV as well as treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

It's hard for a teen to know where to go for health care, even in the U.S., Auerbach says. "We have few adolescent-focused health programs in general and even fewer specifically focused on sexual health," she says.

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