The New Face of HIV Is Gay & Young

Infection rates among young gay men are on the rise—and veterans of the fight against AIDS are struggling to find a way to get the message out to the next generation.

In a small community hall in London’s Soho, a group of young gay men gather. They are 16 to 25 years old. They come from all walks of life but they have two key things in common: They are vulnerable and they are living with HIV. Some of these young men are sex workers, homeless, and drug users. Many have been victims of sexual harassment. Others have traded sex for basic necessities to survive.

“Being homeless has made me have sex with people that can provide me with a place to sleep and this means I have little choice about the kind of sex I have,” said 16-year-old Russell. He is, in many ways, the new face of the HIV epidemic—not just in Britain, but also across the world.

Globally, young people are now carrying the burden of HIV. According to a 2012 UNAIDS report, youth between the ages of 16 to 25 account for 40 percent of all new adult HIV infections. Each day, more than 2,400 young people become infected with HIV.

It is appropriate, then, that this year’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free generation.” We need to set the tone for a different approach to youth engagement in HIV treatment and prevention.

We have failed to understand and examine the factors that are putting young gay men at risk.

In the U.K., an estimated 107,800 people are currently living with HIV, based on the latest report from Public Health England. Within that figure, the report says, the number of infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) between the ages of 15 and 24 has increased in the past decade from 8.7 percent to 16 percent.

In the United States, the story is similar. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2010, young gay and bisexual men (aged 13-24 years) accounted for 72 percent of new HIV infections among all people in the same age range and 30 percent of new infections among all gay and bisexual men.

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