Opinion Pieces

AIDS is still a new threat to a younger generation

First published on www.cnn.com

By Linda-Gail Bekker, IAS President and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre

To the youth of today, the HIV epidemic is old. It arrived before the Internet, before the Berlin Wall came down, and at a time when you could still smoke on airplanes. It can be difficult to fathom but, unlike those of us from earlier generations, today's young people have never known a world without AIDS.

Since those frightening early days of the epidemic, when few survived an HIV diagnosis, the introduction of antiretroviral therapy in the mid-1990s dramatically altered our ability to manage HIV infection. After AIDS-related mortality peaked in 2004, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 42%.

But the medical advances that have transformed HIV treatment have yet to alter the stark reality for young people, particularly in low- to middle-income countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, and young people within key populations. Even as AIDS-related mortality overall decreased in recent years, AIDS-related deaths among adolescents increased by 50%. AIDS, in other words, is far from over, especially for young people. Infection is still a real and continuing threat for them. The world needs to know about the sociocultural factors that influence the spread of HIV and that there are new tools available, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to fight the disease. Simultaneously, the world also needs to respond and scale up investment in infrastructure to increase access to the tools we know work.

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