More Than 3 Million
Young People Infected
With HIV Last Year
GENEVA (AP) -- Six young people are infected with the AIDS virus every minute, the United Nations said Thursday at the launch of a new campaign to try to slow the spread of the epidemic among youth.
Nearly 600,000 children under 15 and 2.5 million people aged 15-24 caught the Human Immunodeficiency Virus last year, it said.
"Too many children are still being deprived of AIDS information and skills because of fears by adults -- including government authorities -- that education will increase sexual activity when evidence shows the opposite is true," said Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS.
The UNAIDS campaign, called "Listen, Learn, Live," is aimed at increasing dialogue with the young about the risks of catching the disease through unprotected sex and other high-risk behavior like intravenous drug use.
"Working with people under 25 is perhaps the best hope we have today of bringing the epidemic under control," said Piot in a statement issued in advance of the campaign's launch in the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
In total, an estimated 33.4 million people were estimated to be living with the HIV virus last year, of whom 43 percent were women, according to U.N. figures. In some of the worst hit countries in southern Africa, more than two out of five pregnant women attending ante-natal clinics have the virus and so risk passing it on to their infants.
During 1998, more than 8,500 children and young people were infected each day, the U.N. AIDS program said. The virus usually leads to the development of full-blown AIDS within eight to ten years.
While much attention has focused on young adults, UNAIDS said there was cause for concern about the rate of sexual transmission among children aged 10-14.
It cited a Pan American Health Organization survey of school children in four Caribbean countries in which 40 percent of children claimed to have had their first sexual experience before the age of ten. The survey found that half of all sexually active adolescents said they did not use contraception during their most recent intercourse.
According to a Peruvian study of young adults aged 19-30, only 11 percent used condoms consistently and 22 percent reported an unplanned pregnancy. A separate Peruvian study found that 90 percent of young mothers aged 14-16 were victims of rape -- the majority by their father or another relative.
UNAIDS wants to use the campaign to target harmful attitudes, including machismo in many Latin American countries, and encourage more open communication and education.
For instance, in the Zambian capital Lusaka, where HIV infection strikes nearly one in four adults, adolescents involved in a sexuality study were reluctant to talk about AIDS, it said. Most people knew someone who had died of AIDS.
UNAIDS is working in partnership with the music television channel MTV, as well as the international scout movement and teachers' organizations.