A new study released Tuesday by the United Nations reveals what health experts call an alarming lack of knowledge about HIV-AIDS among the world's young people.
The report, which surveys 60 countries, shows that the vast majority of young people aged 15 to 24 do not know how HIV-AIDS is transmitted or how to protect themselves from it. This already dangerous situation is compounded by another fact illuminated in the report: adolescence is the time when the majority of human beings become sexually active.
Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS, emphasized that the situation is particularly frustrating because a simple awareness campaign could do much to reverse it. "There are highly cost-effective, low-cost interventions," he said. "This is not something that must happen. This is something that is easy to prevent."
Mr. Piot says that 12 million young people worldwide are currently living with HIV-AIDS, and that 6,000 acquire new infections every day.
Frederic Ngoga Gateretse, 24-year-old, a student at Harvard University and board member of Global Justice, an organization that provides technical expertise to youth activist organizations, grew in Burundi, Africa, one of the 13 countries most severely-affected by HIV-AIDS. He said that him face-to- face with the horror of the pandemic.
"In my own family, so far we have lost about 10 people who have died from HIV-AIDS," he said. "A lot of cousins. Basically, it is something that affects everybody in Africa. It's part of our daily lives."
Mr. Gateretse's experiences inspired him to join in the fight against the disease which, he says, can be won if young people are mobilized on a grand scale.
The U.N. report, entitled Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis, seems to corroborate his theory. It shows that the spread of HIV-AIDS is subsiding in countries such as Thailand and Uganda, where young men and women are provided information, tools and services to adopt safe behaviors.
The report offers 10 steps nations can take as part of their prevention efforts, including the promotion of voluntary and confidential HIV testing and counseling.