Young People Are Still
Ignoring And Mocking
Safe-Sex Advice

OTTAWA (CP) -- The campaign to promote safe sex among young people and prevent the spread of AIDS isn't working. Not in Canada. Not anywhere.
That's the message written large in the latest statistics as experts take stock of the AIDS epidemic, two decades after the appearance of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Death rates have fallen because of improved multi-drug treatments, but the incidence of new infections is rising. Canadian gays, still the biggest risk group, are getting infected at a younger and younger age.
"The message we've all been hearing is our prevention efforts for young people don't work," Richard Marlink, director of the Harvard AIDS Institute, said in a televised news conference Tuesday.
"Half of the new infections in most countries are amongst young people less than 25 years of age."
Every day, approximately a dozen Canadians become infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Among gays the median age of infection has dropped from over 30 to less than 25
"The incidence of new HIV infections among young gay men in Canada is of great concern," says a report on the epidemic released by Health Minister Allan Rock on International AIDS day Tuesday.
Youths holding an inflated condom laugh at a public comedy routine teaching AIDS awareness in Abidjan, Ivory Coast Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1998 to mark World AIDS Day. Thousands of teens and school children marched in the streets to warn that the disease effects young people as well as adults in West Africa. In Ivory Coast, 17 percent of known AIDS cases are youths under the age of 24 according to the Minister of Health. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)) Infection rates are rising rapidly among marginalized people -- drug users, prisoners, aboriginals and prostitutes.
"The epidemic is not going away," Donald Sutherland of the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, said in an interview.
The federal government is currently spending $42.2 million a year to combat the epidemic, including $13.9 million for prevention.
Most prevention money goes to non-government groups close to high-risk populations. Projects range from workshops on homophobia to the distribution of free condoms.
So why isn't the situation improving?
"Reaching young people is not easy as we know," said Martha Ainesworth, an AIDS expert with the World Bank.
"I'm not a parent but I hear from my colleagues who have teenagers it's very difficult to get them to change their behaviour and in fact whatever you tell them they'll probably do the opposite."
Sutherland said the rates of infection are not as high as they were in the 1980s, but they began increasing again in 1996.
There has been impressive progress on the treatment side. New multi-drug cocktails greatly extend the life of the average AIDS patient.
But the drugs have serious side effects, do not guarantee survival and are expensive -- an estimated $28,000 per patient per year.
The real disaster is in the Third World, where millions of infected people don't have access to the new drugs or any hope of getting access.
The World Bank warns that the epidemic, already catastrophic in parts of Africa, could be on the verge of exploding in new regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean.
That is a major issue for Canada given the high touristic and business traffic to and from many countries in the developing world, said Sutherland.