Youth see rise in AIDS cases

by Pamela Steinle

College-age people are ravaged more by AIDS than ever before, and campus activities today for World AIDS Day will address the increased risk for the disease.
A conference Tuesday at the state Capitol brought together speakers from around the state and nation to discuss the disease’s most pressing issue: the spread of AIDS to people age 25 and younger.
Eleven million of the 33 million people infected with HIV worldwide are between the ages of 15 and 24. And more than half of the new infections will be contracted by individuals under age 25.
Given the statistics, speakers at the conference stressed educating high-school and college students about sexual responsibility.
“Young people today have never known a world without AIDS, and it’s hard for them to be as concerned,” said Aggie Leitheiser, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
About 40 people converged at the rotunda to hear the panel discuss responsive health care measures and comprehensive sexuality education.
Jeremy Hanson, coordinator of the Minnesota AIDS Project Public Policy Team that sponsored the conference, suggested a decrease in death rates among AIDS patients has resulted in public complacency.
Now more than ever, he said, AIDS patients need support when obtaining health care, housing and employment.
Improving public support is the mission of World AIDS Day. Speakers at the Capitol conference presented numerous campaigns to increase involvement in the AIDS movement and raise disease awareness.
Factors for the dwindling public awareness include a growing population of young people afflicted with the disease and lack of media coverage, speakers said.
The lecturers cautioned against assuming the HIV crisis has passed just because television programs are not frequently focused on the disease. They said one new person contracts the virus each day.
“The whole country seems to be losing an interest in AIDS. The media isn’t publicizing it, and the public thinks it’s over,” said Jim Rothenberger, a University professor of epidemiology. “People got involved with the cause for a few years. There wasn’t any long-term commitment.”
On campus, peer education groups will lead discussions in University residence halls about overall prevention of STDs.
Several World AIDS Day activities will be held throughout the day and into the weekend throughout the Twin Cities:
ù A memorial service will be held this evening at the Macedonia Baptist Church in observance of HIV victims. The church is located at 3801 First Ave. S.
ù KMSP-TV will host a call-in AIDS information segment tonight. Sponsored by the state Department of Health and the Minnesota AIDS Project, helpline volunteers will answer basic questions about the disease.
ù On Saturday, two nationally renowned speakers, Rae Lewis Thorton and Dr. Octavio Vallejo, will participate in the event, “AIDS End the Silence: Listen, Learn, Live.”
ù Free Hepatitis C testing will be available from noon to 3 p.m. at the Sabathani Community Center. The North Memorial Family Practice Clinic will conduct confidential HIV tests.

Pamela Steinle welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3236.