Young HIV Health Professionals: National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day
As a young professional working in the HIV space, I’ve had the honor of working in diverse settings and roles—from a southern inner-city youth sexual health clinic to investigating HIV health promotion strategies in New York City. Throughout my graduate degree program, I’ve dedicated most of my time to figuring out how we can improve our understanding of HIV risk factors as they relate to the social contexts that define them. Working as a fellow within the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy has provided the opportunity to be part of a team with a shared passion to end the HIV epidemic. And I am grateful for that!
When addressing the impact of HIV on youth, it is important to empower young people to raise their voices and advocate for themselves while actively giving them the platform to do so.
In addition to offering gratitude to the community working to support an HIV response that incorporates the diverse needs of the younger generation, April 10, National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), is a time to reflect on how important it is to listen to and learn from young people, especially those who may be impacted by stigma and discrimination related to gender identity, HIV diagnoses, bullying, and the negative impacts of social media, among other issues.
Young people in the United States are often struggling. Recent data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey(PDF, 9.87MB) found that teen girls and teens who identify as LGBQ+ are experiencing extremely high levels of mental distress, violence, and substance use. Additionally, CDC notes that 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses occur in young people ages 13-24 and that almost half of young people within this same age range with HIV don’t know that they have the virus. This data showcases the need for a whole-of-society effort, which highlights the critical need to expand beyond addressing HIV as a biomedical challenge and address social justice challenges, too.
A whole-of-society effort requires us to consider a youth-centered social justice framework at the forefront of operational plans to end the HIV epidemic. As we move forward with HIV research, programs, and policies, a youth-centered social justice framework will help identify and respond to social challenges that profoundly impact young people’s health. Moreover, the roadmap to ending the HIV epidemic, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, highlights strategies and actions that are key to reducing disparities and improving HIV outcomes among youth aged 13-24 years.
During a Live with Leadership conversation, federal leadership and youth advocates emphasized the need to include the voices of young people in the conversation about HIV. When asked about the importance of this inclusivity, Kayla Quimbley, an Advocates for Youth Activist, National Youth HIV/AIDS Ambassador, and member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, responded:
“…We [young people] bring new knowledge to the table. A lot of times, people think that the old way of doing things is the right way of doing things because it’s been done for so long, but we have so many innovative and smart, intelligent young people…. Because just as well as you [older generation] teach us, we can teach you [too].”
When asked about the importance of recognizing NYHAAD, Catarina Kim, an ORISE Fellow supporting the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy, shared:
“As a young adult, addressing HIV in young people requires that we are provided equitable access to tools and resources that help reduce our risk and encourage us to make healthy decisions. Youth must not only be a part of the conversation, but we also have to feel empowered to share solutions to overcome barriers preventing us from attaining the highest standard of well-being.”
I want to echo Kayla and Catarina’s messages about the importance of including young people’s voices in this conversation. Their words perfectly highlight the opportunity we all have on April 10—to listen to and learn from our nation’s youth.
Check out HIV.gov’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day Resources blog to view resources for developing messages to help youth stay healthy by encouraging HIV prevention, testing, and care. Also, check out HIV.gov’s HIV Services Locator to find HIV testing and care services, including information on self-testing options.