Recently I mentioned to a few people that we no longer have babies being born with HIV in New York. Yes, this is true. Routine screening for newborns born with HIV began in New York in 1997, and in 2010 there were a total of three babies born with HIV. It is estimated that New York's great advances in this area have saved at least 749 infants from HIV, representing a savings of about $215 million dollars. This is a terrific advance in HIV prevention.
Parents work to protect their children. They hover over them as they take their first steps, provide safe and caring homes, and anxiously await their return home from that infamous first day of school. They then anxiously send their children off to their first dance and then again on their first dates.
There is a major incongruence though.
In 2009 there was an estimated 21-percent increase in HIV incidence for people aged 13 to 29 years. Young men who have sex with men were the only group to experience a significant increase in incidence in this age range. Most affected are young men of color. And yes, I know many jump to the conclusion that this increase is due to promiscuity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly states, "The reasons for this increase among young, black MSM are not clear." They go onto say that there are several issues that seem to be driving this train, and they include:
- Lack of awareness of their infection
- Stigma of HIV and homosexuality, thus limiting access to services
- Limited access to healthcare, HIV testing, and treatment
- Increased likelihood of having older sexual partners (who are more likely to be HIV-infected), compared to MSM of other racial/ethnic groups
- Higher rates of some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among young black men, which can facilitate HIV transmission
- Underestimating personal risk for HIV
As we worry about how to protect our children, we seem to lose track of the fact that they grow up to be sexually engaged youth. For eight years, we did not offer any options except abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. When the Obama administration went into office, two federal funding streams for abstinence-only education programs were eliminated.
We are finally beginning to make some progress toward the prevention of STDs and HIV. In August, for the first time in nearly 20 years, New York City public middle and high schools will be mandated to incorporate sex education as part of the public school curriculum.
Just recently, the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Immunization Practices stated that boys should be routinely vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) at age 11 or 12. This would reduce the risk of genital warts and certain cancers, including anal cancer. Gardasil had previously only been approved to help prevent genital warts and certain cancers for girls and women.
On Oct. 31, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians offer routine HIV testing for all adolescents, beginning at ages 16 to 18.
As parents, teachers, medical and community service providers, the time is now to increase protection for our children and youth from all of life's trials and tribulations. We must "mind" our kids, teens and even young adults -- their lives and our future depend on it.
Janet Weinberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis. Her article was initially published on November 23 in The Huffington Post.