October 24 2016
The WA AIDS Council today launches its most significant and extensive World AIDS Day program ever. It aims to ensure that we don’t produce yet another generation of young people who are oblivious to the risk of acquiring HIV. HIV remains incurable, and if undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to fatal acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome or AIDS.
In 2015, Australia recorded 20 new HIV infections every week, and the annual number is about the same as 1989 in the midst of the AIDS crisis.
Council Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Burry, said that this year’s campaign was a response to the growing number of younger people – predominantly male – acquiring the virus. “We need to ensure that HIV is discussed much more in mainstream settings, and we are calling on parents and educators to start the conversation with young people in their care”, he said.
The campaign includes striking billboards in high traffic locations around Perth asking the question; ‘What are we telling our kids about HIV?’ The campaign also includes information and other resources to help start, what for some, may be a potentially awkward discussion.
Mr Burry said that young people today are more vulnerable to HIV than before, given their increasing travel outside Australia, which is frequently to countries where HIV rates are much higher than at home, and where epidemics are rapidly expanding. Adding in the influence of alcohol and other drugs as well as a tendency to change behaviours when overseas can add to the risk.
“If we send our kids into the world without even the most basic information, then we have young people exposing themselves to dangers they weren’t ever aware of” said Mr Burry.
Lack of knowledge also means a lack of motivation to get tested for HIV and other STIs, and since many of these frequently occur without symptoms, the risk of onward transmission is greatly increased.
Younger people embrace technology and talk to larger numbers more regularly than ever before. The WA AIDS Council believes that this also offers a huge potential for raising awareness of HIV and its consequences. Mr Burry said; “There is no doubt that the conversations young people have amongst themselves will have more impact than government sponsored health education campaigns or simple condom promotion, but those conversations need to get started and that’s where educators and parents play a crucial role.”
The WA AIDS Council’s World AIDS Day Campaign will raise community awareness of HIV, but there needs to be a far greater profile in the home and school if young people are to be equipped to make choices that keep them safe.
“If you aren’t talking to your kids about HIV, then maybe nobody is”, said Mr Burry.