Columns, Opinion

American Protest: We can do better in preventing the spread of HIV

Every Dec. 1, World Aids Day comes around and we all talk about the people in this world living with HIV or AIDS, which are sexually transmitted diseases commonly associated with the gay community. The problem, though, is that we cannot just talk about this issue for one day — it is something we need to talk about year-round in order to properly educate the citizens of the U.S.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS that prevent us from properly educating the public. Many people still believe that it is a disease contracted only by gay men and drug users, when in fact anyone can contract HIV.

Many people are also uneducated on how it can be contracted, how to check if you have contracted it and how long people live after they have been diagnosed.

HIV is spread through bodily fluids which happen most often during unprotected sex. It can also be passed along by sharing needles but this is less prominent now than it was in the past. 

Approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S are living with HIV and 15 percent of these people are unaware, according to HIV.gov. In addition, the most at-risk people are gay and bisexual men as well as African American or Latino men.

A lot of these statistics stem from a lack of education about preventing sexually transmitted diseases as well as a lack of STD testing.

The American education system has failed the students of America by delivering less-than-satisfactory sex education, sometimes not even having the subject taught at all.

Many of the schools that do choose to talk about sex education do not go in-depth enough for students to truly understand the importance of safe sex, resulting in the transmission of STDs and high teenage pregnancy rates.

Some schools simply teach abstinence as the best form of birth control. While it is true that not having sex will certainly prevent pregnancy and STDs, it is pretty much useless. Teenagers are going to have sex. They will just end up having unprotected sex because no one taught them different protection methods.

Abstinence-only sex education actually increases the pregnancy and STD transmission rates because it is so ineffective, according to a study at the Univerity of Georgia.

The school systems need to make sex-education a mandatory part of the curriculum so that students have the ability to make safer choices. It is the only way this country will see vast changes in the HIV transmission rate.

The stigma against sexual health needs to be eliminated. So many people do not get tested simply because they feel it is shameful or implies that they are not healthy. Every single person, regardless of their sexuality, gender or race should be getting a full STD test at least once a year. Every new sexual partner is a new risk that should be taken seriously.

Planned Parenthood offers to test for pretty much every STD under the sun and can even be free with insurance. The tests are quick, easy and painless. Not getting tested and risking dangerous STDs is quite the opposite of that.

There are also many other resources for people with HIV or at high risk of contracting it. There are medications such as antiretroviral therapy, which involves taking anti-HIV medication daily and can reduce the amount of HIV in an HIV positive person to the point that they will not pass along the disease at all.

There is also a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is medicine can be taken by someone who does not have HIV but is at high risk for contracting the condition. The education about these options is essential because they are medications specifically made for preventing the spread of HIV.

Through a better sex education system, regular testing, safe sex and awareness about contracting and preventing HIV, this country can finally start eradicating the disease that has taken too many lives.

There is no excuse to not educate our children about how to stay healthy and prevent life-threatening diseases. Sex can no longer be taboo — it is harming our children to ignore the realities of HIV and AIDs.




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