National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day

by Caitlin Ultimo

National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD) takes place every year on April 10th. This day is designed to focus on HIV testing, prevention, treatment, and care for young people across the country. 

The National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day Collective is a group of youth activists who lead and organize all events and efforts. Their work is not only meant to shed light on the challenges faced by young people living with and impacted by HIV, but also to offer insight as to how they can combat the ever-present stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. 

The work doesn’t end there. The organization is also looking to enhance the awareness among physicians, policymakers, and youth-serving professionals about the disparities that exist, but are not often talked about or addressed.

Why HIV & AIDS Awareness Matters for Young People

While there have been promising indicators of a continued decline in overall HIV infections (with CDC reports of new cases decreasing from 37,800 in 2015 to 34,800 in 2019), a troubling study in 2018 found that youth ages 13 to 24 made up 21% of the 37,832 new HIV diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas.   

Some may be shocked to learn that such a young group of people make up a significant part of new HIV infections in the US; others may be completely unsurprised and chalk it up to the exploratory and risk-taking nature of adolescence. The answer, however, is not that simple.

Notably, there is not a universal sexual education program across the US that teaches the fundamentals of safe sex to young people. This leaves many individuals underprepared for safely navigating their first sexual encounters. Furthermore, the CDC reports that young people are often unable to access pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill to prevent HIV, without parental consent. Beyond all of these factors, some young people may feel intimidated by or scared to even seek medical help, not knowing that free HIV testing is an option available to them.

The Impact of HIV in 2022

Outside of the obvious medical impact that infected young people will have to manage for the greater part of their lives, there are also legal dangers following the transmission of HIV–especially for BIPOC individuals. 

The CDC reports that 37 states have laws criminalizing HIV exposure. HIV criminalization laws criminalize the transmission of, or perceived exposure to, HIV and other infectious diseases. Further, in the United States, more than 50% of those accused in reported HIV criminalization cases in 2020 were people of color. If a young person were to contract the disease, they would not only be subjected to the illness for the rest of their life but also potentially-harmful bias and any legal repercussions that come along with it.

26Health Is Here to Help with Free HIV Testing in Orlando & More

26Health is here to support young people with or without HIV in maintaining their health and overall wellness. We consider our clinic to be a safe haven for youth who might otherwise not have access to these resources for financial or family reasons. Anyone can come to receive free HIV testing in Orlando as well as free STD testing.

HIV & AIDS Awareness Goals for 2022

As this year’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day approaches, let’s recap what needs to be done, the progress that still needs to be made, and what you can do to help: 

1. Affirm policies around HIV care, treatment, and prevention on campus and in communities

2. Support the decriminalization of HIV

3. Seek to improve accessibility to and awareness of HIV services including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), on-campus and in communities, without parental consent

4. Advocate for updating sex education curricula, which includes medically accurate information about HIV

26Health stands in partnership with young people impacted by and living with HIV. If you or a loved one needs support, whether for physical treatment or emotional help, know that you do have somewhere to go for access to the care you need.