Last year, the voter mandate requiring porn actors to wear condoms when filming all but monopolized the public discussion about HIV and AIDS. Yet the rate of infection outside the porn industry far outstrips that within it, and the devastating consequences are affecting our most vulnerable population: young people.
In Los Angeles County, 25 percent of new HIV infections are happening to people between the ages 13-24. Furthermore, 60 percent of these youth do not even know they are infected. Among African-American males ages 15-29 who are infected, a staggering 91 percent do not know they are carrying the virus that causes HIV. This ignorance has deadly repercussions — not only for youth who are becoming sexually active and who may not know how HIV is transmitted, but also for women in relationships with men who, unbeknownst to them, also are having sex with men.
These facts prompted Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to convene an HIV Roundtable that brought together clinicians, professors, public health officials and researchers to discuss a proposed 2013 Strategic Plan to combat HIV/AIDS in the Second District.
“The rates of HIV contraction both in the county and the Second District are dismal,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “We must address this issue head on by educating our youth and other highly affected groups, promoting testing and tackling the stigma that is too often attached to this issue. This is a healthcare crisis that needs to be taken very seriously.”
Among the ideas discussed during the roundtable is the plan to host a youth prevention conference in the Second District, with a series of speakers, panel discussions and some form of entertainment to begin educating and targeting this population.
Another key component of the strategic plan is to continue educating ministers and first ladies at local churches on HIV infection and prevention. Because this epidemic is affecting so many African American males who have sex with men, an essential part of the strategic plan includes addressing the issue of homophobia in order to reach these men and help them get the care that they need.
Dr. Wilbert Jordan, Medical Director of the Oasis Clinic noted that almost half of the teens he sees–46 percent of adolescent clients–become infected after being kicked out of home , saying their “moms can’t handle their sexuality.”
“If black mothers can love their sons who are imprisoned for murdering someone, they should be encouraged to love their kids who like someone of the same sex,” Jordan said.
The discussion is the first of many. The goal of the strategic plan is to promote policy that will have a lasting impact.
“I’m hoping to begin a discussion on this mission,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “I ask that we can come together to discuss this large issue from a broader perspective than our individual clinics and agencies. This group needs to stay focused and on task.”