Whether they are aware of it or not, millennials are greatly affected by HIV/AIDS. Born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, this emerging generation currently accounts for more than a quarter of new HIV cases in the U.S., and more than half of them do not even know they have the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some experts believe this is attributed to a lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, low rates of youths getting tested for HIV (only 1/3 of sexually experienced high school students have been tested), and a prevalent belief among young people that they are “invincible” or exempt from risk.
But millennials are far from exempt: in 2011, 26 percent of all new HIV infections were among young people ages 13 to 24 years old. And almost half of millennials say HIV is a serious problem for someone they know.
A “silent killer”
Rolando M. Viani, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego calls HIV/AIDS a “silent epidemic” among young people. He observes that since most young people today have not witnessed the epidemic killing their friends and partners like others did in the 1980s, many millennials have developed a somewhat nonchalant attitude toward HIV risk — and they don’t understand the difficulties they will face if they acquire the disease and the challenge of treating it.
A recent CDC study found that 70 percent of HIV-positive Americans didn’t have the virus under control. Among that group, people either hadn’t received regular medical care or remained unaware of their HIV-positive status, according to the report. Among those who had not received medication that suppresses the virus, nearly two-thirds knew their status, 20 percent didn’t know that they had been infected, and 14 percent hadn’t been able to stop the virus’ development, even with treatment. Young people fared even worse, with only 13 percent having achieved viral suppression.
Millennials joining the fight
Though some millennials have adopted a nonchalant attitude toward HIV/AIDS, many others have boldly taken up the fight against it. They’re mobilizing their peers to get tested, they work in community centers, and they’re pressuring governments to address the issue.
63 percent of millennials believe the government should spend more on HIV and AIDS versus 47 percent of baby boomers and seniors. 50 percent of millennials want more information about HIV, and 52 percent want better information on talking to the next generation about HIV.
Getting involved is easy
For over 30 years, the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County has helped more than 8,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in Orange County. The foundation welcomes volunteers from every walk of life to assist in varying capacities, including outreach, data entry, administrative assistance, social media promotion and fundraising efforts. From speaking out about HIV/AIDS at schools to increase awareness and education, to hosting a free, rapid 20-minute HIV testing events, ASF seeks to build a stronger community that works in unity to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Orange County. If you can’t volunteer, consider donating to ASF and its efforts – every cent makes an impact. With your help, we can end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Orange County together. For more information or to make a donation to support the fight against AIDS, visit www.ocasf.org.
Chris Bragg is the director of development for AIDS Services Foundation Orange County (ASF), a nonprofit AIDS service organization that has helped more than 8,000 people living with HIV in Orange County since 1985. ASF serves the local community impacted by HIV and AIDS by providing food, transportation, housing, emergency financial assistance, counseling, education and preventative services. You can learn more about the organization by visiting www.ocasf.org.