Press Release WHO/90
1 December 1998
WORLD AIDS DAY 1998
AIDS epidemic: Director-General urges health services to be more responsive to youth.
In a World AIDS Day message, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland has said that health services must become more youth oriented if the spread of AIDS among young people is to be slowed.
Five young people are being infected every minute with HIV. Half of all new infections are now in young people aged between 15 and 24 years old. The worst affected country is Africa where up to 60% of new infections occur within this age group. In South Africa, a study of pregnant teenagers aged 15-19 found nearly 13% to be HIV positive; 9.5% of whom had become infected before they reached the age of 15.
"These statistics are a chilling reminder that we are failing our young. We in the health sector must take our share of the responsibility. Health services must become more youth friendly with staff who can talk to young people about issues that affect their lives. Young people can help themselves. But, they need accurate information and appropriate treatment - one way is to provide receptive health services that young people are comfortable with," said Dr Brundtland.
Streamlining health services to cater for youth is very important. Unfriendly staff, excessive paper work or the perceived lack of confidentiality can all deter young people from using health services.
This is particularly serious in the case of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) among adolescents. As well as leading to life threatening complications such as cervical cancer, STD's can facilitate the transmission of HIV.
"When a young person contracts a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, they may take a long time to come to terms with it because of the association with sex. It may take weeks, months or in the case of HIV years for them to seek medical treatment. An unfriendly health facility which further stigmatises youth will only make matters worse."
As well as providing access to medical treatment, a health facility which is sensitive to the needs of young people is an ideal place to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. Sexual health education has been proven to be effective in reducing infection risks especially in young people, who can adopt safer behaviour from the start of their sexual lives.
WHO has established an HIV/AIDS/Sexually Transmitted Infections Initiative. The aim is to work within the UNAIDS framework to support health ministries to intensify their efforts to strengthen health systems so they can respond adequately to the epidemic. Treatment of sexually transmitted diseases will be part of the prevention strategy.
"Young people are not only the heart of the epidemic they are also at the heart of the solution," says Dr Brundtland. "Investing in young people pays long term dividends. The behaviours and attitudes they adopt during adolescence, regarding relations with others, sexuality and the safe use of substances lasts a lifetime. These behaviours will also affect the health and well being of future children."
For further information, journalists can contact Christopher Powell, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 7912888. Fax (41 22) 791 4858. Email:email@example.com
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