Vail Daily column: Education is first step in prevention, understanding
The stigma surrounding the AIDS epidemic is profound. Globally, there are 5 million young people living with HIV. The vast majority of HIV-positive youth live in parts of the world where educational and health resources are scarce. For instance, the percentage of young people living with HIV in parts of sub-Saharan Africa are at a staggering 71 percent. According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the needs of young people living with HIV or AIDS are “underestimated and largely unmet.” Countries with the highest numbers of young people living with HIV are also among the world’s neediest countries. Young people, globally, are underserved.
Stigma contributes to epidemic
Stigma against people with HIV directly contributes to the epidemic. According to Advocates for Youth, “HIV positive people are reluctant or afraid to seek care, and some young people report being afraid to get an HIV test because health care workers accuse them of being promiscuous.”
My own understanding of the stigma associated with HIV in young adults stems from my career in working to stop the spread of HIV in the developing world, in particular sub-Saharan Africa. Since entering partial retirement in 2011, I founded an organization known as Giving Positively. Giving Positively provides vocational training scholarship to HIV positive young adults under treatment at the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala, Uganda. By restoring an educational pathway and providing psychosocial support along with entrepreneurship training, 95 percent of our graduates are now financially independent and report renewed optimism about their place in society.
Education is clearly a major tool in the fight against stigmatizing those living with HIV/AIDS, and that education has been provided by Red Ribbon Project for the past 20 years. Worldwide, few young people have an accurate understanding of how HIV is transmitted. This means they are not only more vulnerable to the virus but also susceptible to believing myths about HIV and HIV-positive people.
Learn facts, myths
Red Ribbon Project programs are delivered by Narda Reigel. As a lifelong educator, Reigel believes that it is critical for all adolescents to learn how to make healthy decisions. Reigel helps students be educated with the correct information to make decisions, instead of relying on rumor and speculation among friends. Students learn what is myth and what is fact. They learn how HIV is and is not transmitted.
Thank you, Red Ribbon Project
Here in Eagle County and for the past 20 years, area youth are fortunate to have classes focusing on AIDS issues as part of their overall education, and committed and passionate educators who know that with the right tools, they can send compassionate, safe and open-minded children into the world.
I am pleased to be able to support the efforts undertaken by the Red Ribbon Project. Thank you to Red Ribbon Project for 20 years of service.
Don Holzworth is an Eagle County resident, executive in residence at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and founder of Giving Positively. The Red Ribbon Project promotes healthier lives by empowering the community to reduce teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. The Red Ribbon Project is celebrating 20 years of education and positive prevention this year. Get involved, learn more and help make a difference at http://www.redribbonproject.org.
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