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Youth and HIV/AIDS


Young people are at the center of the HIV and AIDS crisis.


An estimated 11.8 million young people (aged 15–24) are living with HIV today. Each day, nearly 6,000 more are infected, as well as 2,000 infants who contract the virus from their mothers during pregnancy or birth, or through breastfeeding. And 14 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents to AIDS.


But young people are not just at the centre of the crisis. They — you — are crucial to a lasting solution. In areas where HIV infection rates are levelling off or actually declining, it’s mainly because young men and women are changing their behaviour. And young people are also taking a lead in passing on the vital information that prompts such change.


Vulnerable young people


For a variety of reasons – cultural, political and economic – some young people are more vulnerable to infection than others. For example, girls are at higher risk in some parts of the world. This is partly because girls are more likely to be pressured into having sex and less likely to be able to control with whom, when and how they have sex. Also, social attitudes to sex and sex education may make it more difficult for girls to get the information they need to protect themselves from the virus.


Other young people are likely to be infected with HIV because they inject illegal drugs (sharing unsterilized needles is a common route for infection). Or they may be more at risk because they are poor or homeless, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, for example by being forced to have sex for money. Children orphaned by AIDS are themselves particularly vulnerable to infection because they often have no one to care for or protect them, or any means of earning a living.


Call to action


We all have a part to play in fighting the HIV and AIDS crisis. First and foremost we must make sure everyone has accurate information about how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves. Making sure everyone can develop the skills and self-confidence to keep safe in difficult situations is also critical, as is having access to services, such as counselling, treatment and HIV testing. And all adults – guardians and official leaders – must do everything they can to make sure our communities are safe and young people are supported.


These pages aim to give you the information you need to keep yourself safe and to help in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.




Teach, reach youth about HIV/AIDS


Katie is hanging around after everyone has left the youth group meeting. With a frightened look, she asks to talk with you. She tells you she just found out she is HIV positive. How do you respond?

Katie is part of an alarming trend in the United States. The statistics are disturbing.

  • More than 50 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. occur in young people under age 25. Most are infected sexually.

  • AIDS related illnesses are the sixth leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.

  • HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 25 and 44 and the leading cause of death among African Americans in this age group, suggesting many were infected as teenagers.

  • Every hour, two Americans under age 20 are infected with HIV.

  • By the time they are high school seniors, 82 percent of teenagers have had sex; 50 percent say they don’t use condoms regularly. Of senior girls, 1 in 7 has had more than four sex partners.

  • Young women new to sex generally have older partners, who often dissuade them from using protection.

  • The number of young heterosexual women contracting HIV climbed 63 percent between 1991 and 1995. Women comprise the fastest-growing population of new HIV infections.


Talking about HIV/AIDS

For many, HIV/AIDS is not an easy, comfortable topic. It requires open and honest discussion about sexuality, drug use, being ostracized, fear, death, grief and more. It also requires that parents and leaders face the reality that there may be young people in their congregation who participate in at-risk behaviors. Some of the congregation’s young people may already be HIV positive or know someone who is. Consider these tips in talking about the disease in your safe, faith-filled environment:

  • Tell parents you’ll be talking about HIV/AIDS. In advance, share with them your outline, perspective and activities.

  • Teach the basics of how the virus is transmitted. Separate myths from facts. Don’t assume everyone has the correct information.

  • Assume that someone in your group and/or congregation is HIV positive, and that some members in your group participate in at-risk behaviors for contracting the virus.

  • Invite a person who is HIV positive to talk to your group; it helps to make it real.

  • Set appropriate boundaries for discussion, including respect for what is said and confidentiality.

  • Be prepared to follow up on an individual level.

Myths and Facts


HIV is NOT transmitted by:

  • donating blood

  • mosquito bites or bites from other bugs

  • sneezes or coughs

  • touching, hugging or dry kissing a person with HIV

  • urine or sweat of an infected person

  • public restrooms, saunas, showers or pools

  • sharing towels, clothing, eating utensils or drinks

  • being friends with a person who has HIV/AIDS


HIV is transmitted by:

  • sexual intercourse

  • sores or breaks in the mucous membrane or skin that are exposed to infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions

  • shared razors, tattoo or piercing equipment which might have blood on them

  • shared syringes, needles and cookers

  • breast milk

Ideas for action

Encourage young people to help others through education, advocacy and care giving:

  • Ask worship leaders/pastors to include HIV/AIDS stories, issues and concerns in sermons and prayers.

  • Volunteer to visit, provide meals, transportation or other services to people living with AIDS.

  • Write about experiences you, your friends or your family has had related to HIV/AIDS. Share them with your congregation and/or community.

  • Volunteer to provide HIV prevention education to younger youth and children in your congregation.

  • Wear red AIDS awareness ribbons.


  • "AIDS and the Church’s Ministry of Caring. Message of the ELCA on AIDS." Augsburg Fortress, 800.328.4648, #67-1181. Free.

  • Brokenness to Wholeness: An HIV/AIDS Prevention Curriculum. Four-session curriculum for youth ages 15–18. Explores the realities of HIV in light of people’s faith. Facilitator Guide and reproducible Participant Book. Developed by the Lutheran AIDS Network (LANET). Augsburg Fortress, 800.328.4648, #6-0000-7453-0, $14.99.

  • ELCA HIV/AIDS Clearinghouse and Speakers Bureau, 800.638.3522 ext. 2797,

  • Lutheran AIDS Network, 800.664.3848.

  • World AIDS Day Resource Booklet. Ideas for observing World AIDS Day and teaching AIDS awareness. American Association for World Health, 202.466.5883. First booklet free.


Faith-based HIV/AIDS Web sites

Other Web Sites


Information in this resource was obtained from Brokenness to Wholeness curriculum, American Association for World Health, and Mother’s Voices.


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