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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”



AIDS Becoming Youth Epidemic

LONDON, Oct. 9, 2003

(AP) Young people are increasingly responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world because of poverty and a severe lack of information and prevention services, the United Nations said Wednesday.

Every 14 seconds a person aged between 15 and 24 is infected with the virus. They now account for half all new cases of the disease, the U.N. Population Fund said in its annual State of the World's Population report.

"We will have a global catastrophe if we ignore young people and ignore their needs," said Thoraya Obaid, the agency's executive director, told a news conference in London.

The "Making 1 Billion Count" report cautions that there is now the biggest generation of adolescents in history — 1.2 billion of the world's 6.3 billion population are between 10 and 19 — and many are facing deadly diseases, unwanted pregnancy and poverty.

HIV/AIDS has emerged as one of the greatest threats. As well as the high infection rate among young people, the epidemic has so orphaned 13 million children under the age of 15, the report said.

If those trends continue, the next generation of adults will face greater poverty and stunted economic progress, the report said.

The report estimates the economic benefit of a single averted HIV/AIDS infection is $34,600 for a poor country — and the social benefits are even greater.

It called for more investment in youth-friendly services, family planning and education programs to help young people with reproductive health issues.

"This is a huge opportunity. It is a one-time opportunity that will not occur again," said Alex Marshall, an author of the population report.

Poverty is a factor in the spread of HIV, the report said, because some poor girls exchange sex for money for school fees or to help their families, placing them at risk of infection.


Discussing sexual behavior is taboo in many countries, so many young people do not know how to protect themselves. In Somalia, the report says, just 26 percent of adolescent girls have heard of AIDS and only 1 percent know how to protect themselves.

Obaid said she didn't believe educating youngsters about safe sex would make them more sexually active.

"I would like to stress that giving young people this information is safe, it doesn't lead to promiscuous behavior, as some people say," she said. "On the contrary, it empowers young people to take positive action in their lives and may save their lives as well."

Obaid said the U.N. agency's core message was "ABC" — Abstaining from sexual activity, Being faithful to one partner and the correct use of Condoms.

In sub-Saharan Africa, which has the most cases of HIV/AIDS among youths, about 8.6 million have HIV/AIDS — two-thirds of them female. In South Asia, 1.1 millions youths are infected — 62 percent of them female.

The rate of new infections is growing rapidly in countries like India and Russia, Marshall said.

There is a continued risk of HIV concentrated among the poor and vulnerable in countries like Britain and the United States, Marshall said, but compared with India and Russia, the rate of infection is quite low.

The U.N. report also said poverty, early marriage, unwanted pregnancy and homelessness were major issues facing the world's adolescents. Half are poor and a quarter live in extreme poverty on less than a dollar a day.

Among the poorest and least-educated populations, early marriage of girls and expectations of early childbearing persist, contributing to high maternal mortality and reducing girls' chances for education.

The report backs up these conclusions with harsh statistics.

Teenage mothers are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s; girls under 16 are five times more likely to die than women in their 20s, and 14 million young mothers aged 15-19 give birth each year. About 5 million girls between 15 and 19 undergo unsafe abortion every year, the report said.

"Studies show that money spent to delay births to adolescents and prevent HIV infections is repaid many times over in direct savings and indirect economic gains," the report said.


By Jane Wardell
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