Saturday is World AIDS Day. Here in Austin, the Department of Health and Human Services in holding a day long AIDS conference. This year’s focus is on how HIV is affecting young people in Travis County, among whom HIV infection is increasing.
Worldwide, deaths from AIDS are down since 2005. Rates of HIV infection are also falling. But HIV is on the rise among young people, including those in Travis County.
“In the last four or five years, we’ve seen a very sharp increase in the number of cases of HIV infection in among youth,” said Joe Barnes with Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services. “We define that as between 13 and 24.”
Many are not even aware they are infected, or how deadly the virus can be. Young gay and bisexual men and African-Americans are hit hardest. The CDC recommends that sexually active teens get tested for HIV.
AIDS Services of Austin is working today the School of Health Administration at Texas State University in San Marcos to get young people tested.
“Our testing takes 20 minutes,” says Angelica Garcia-Ditta of AIDS Services of Austin. “You’re able to sit down and talk with someone about your own risk and receive your result right then and there.”
Joe Barnes says a big key to prevention is education. But he says the conservative approach to sex education in Texas public schools makes it harder to teach children about preventing HIV.
“That’s the purpose of the conference,” Barnes says. “How do we build a strategy to identify why we’ve missed this young group, what do we need to rectify it, and what kind of action can we take to encourage testing?”
“Citywide World AIDS Day 2012: Impacting our Youth” will take place today from 9 AM to 3:30 PM at the For the City Center, 500 E. St. Johns Ave.
Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services offers free HIV counseling and confidential testing by appointment.
For a list of places offering testing, click here.