AIDS Becoming Youth Epidemic
Oct. 9, 2003
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
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
If those trends continue, the next generation of adults will
face greater poverty and stunted economic progress, the report
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
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
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