1. Home
  2. Asia

UN urges region to promote HIV/AIDS awareness

[Thailand] HIV/AIDS youth educator Nakwan Leknork. [2006] UNICEF/IRIN
Youth neglected in fight against AIDS
The United Nations has urged Asian governments to do more to develop HIV awareness and prevention programmes targeting young people, who represent a growing percentage of new infections in the region. A study entitled 'Turning the tide against HIV/AIDS: Targeting Youth', released this week by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission on the Asia Pacific (ESCAP), said that half of new HIV infections in the region were among youth, particularly those engaged in high-risk activities such as commercial sex work and intravenous drug use. In Vietnam, where injecting drug use has been a major driver of the HIV epidemic, 63 percent of those infected are under the age of 30, while in neighbouring Thailand, 50 to 60 percent of new infections each year occur in people younger than 24. Despite the evidence of the high vulnerability among youth, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, many Asian governments remain reluctant to openly discuss HIV/AIDS and how it is spread among young people, citing what they consider the region's traditional morality. "Adolescents and young people are poorly informed about sexuality, reproductive health and the consequences of unprotected sex or drug use," the ESCAP report said. In China, for example, 80 percent of high school students said they had never participated in a course or extra curricular activity at school related to HIV/AIDS, the report noted. Even in countries where AIDS education is a part of the school curriculum such as Thailand, proposals to make condoms more easily accessible to young people - like condom machines on university campuses - have been resisted by bureaucrats who fear it would encourage promiscuity. At the same time, poorly educated, unskilled young people who migrate in search of work and opportunities are at high risk of ending up in commercial sex work, increasing their chances of being exposed to the HI-virus. In Laos, Cambodia and Sichuan province of China, around 70 percent of sex workers are younger than 25, while in Bangladesh, nearly 60 percent of sex workers are under the age of 25, according to UN data. To raise awareness of the virus and its modes of transmission among young people, ESCAP has urged regional governments to incorporate HIV/AIDS education into schools, particularly using "interactive teaching methods to encourage young people to face health risks and make responsible decisions". It also said that HIV/AIDS information in schools and communities "needs to be complemented by providing access to youth friendly health services", including condom provision, voluntary counselling and testing and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections. The ESCAP report also made a plea for "policy coherence", saying that efforts by one ministry to promote safe and healthy behaviour were often undermined by other ministries with different priorities. In Vietnam, public health experts say that attempts by the health ministry to promote needle exchange to reduce HIV risk among injecting drug users are often undermined by public security officials, who will arrest any one carrying needles. To overcome this problem, ESCAP said that the national ministries of justice, public security and law enforcement – previously not part of the public health response to AIDS - should also be brought into the discussions through wider engagement. To view the ESCAP report: www.unescap.org pdf Format

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article

Get the day’s top headlines in your inbox every morning

Starting at just $5 a month, you can become a member of The New Humanitarian and receive our premium newsletter, DAWNS Digest.

DAWNS Digest has been the trusted essential morning read for global aid and foreign policy professionals for more than 10 years.

Government, media, global governance organisations, NGOs, academics, and more subscribe to DAWNS to receive the day’s top global headlines of news and analysis in their inboxes every weekday morning.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian today and you’ll automatically be subscribed to DAWNS Digest – free of charge.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.