National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD) educates the public about the impact of HIV/AIDS on youth and highlights the work youth do to strengthen the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is observed each year on April 10 and was created in 2013.

In the United States, 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses were among young people aged 13-24 years. Getting tested for HIV is an important step toward prevention; however, testing rates among high school students remain low. Only 9% of U.S. high school students have ever been tested for HIV.

The recently released YRBS Data Summary and Trends Report focuses on 4 priority areas closely linked to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including sexual behavior, high-risk substance use, violence victimization, and mental health over the past decade. This report shows that although overall students are making better decisions about their health, there are still too many students reporting risky sexual behaviors, high-risk substance use, violence victimization, and poor mental health.

From 2007 to 2017, CDC data show declines in sexual risk behaviors among youth, including fewer currently sexually active high school students. The proportion of high school students who ever had sex decreased from 48% in 2007 to 40% in 2017.

Still, the prevalence of some behaviors remains high and puts young people at risk. For instance, condom use among sexually active students decreased from 62% in 2007 to 54% in 2017, presenting a serious health risk for HIV and STDs. Additionally, some young people, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth, often remain at greater risk for negative health outcomes. For example, 15% of LGB students have had sex with four or more partners during their life, compared to 9% of heterosexual students. It is critical to use tailored approaches to reach the youth at highest risk with the right interventions, in the right way, at the right time.

Addressing HIV in youth requires that young people are provided the tools they need to reduce their risk, make healthy decisions, and get treatment and care if needed.

Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people. The nation’s schools provide an opportunity for 56 million students to learn about the dangers of unhealthy behaviors and to practice skills that promote a healthy lifestyle. Because schools reach millions of students in grades 9-12 every day, they are in a unique position to help young people adopt behaviors that reduce their risk for HIV, STDs, pregnancy and other related problems.

Some ways to encourage youth to stay healthy are to teach them about HIV/AIDS and other STDs, promote communication between youth and their parents, and support student access to confidential HIV counseling and testing services. Schools are also important partners in supporting HIV testing among adolescents.

How can schools encourage students to get tested for HIV?
Use health risk behavior data to prioritize needs
– Teach students about HIV and other STDs
– Connect students to health services that include HIV testing and counseling
– Encourage students and their parents to talk about HIV

Parents, schools, and community- and school-based organizations and health centers must work together to help provide safe and nurturing environments for youth. MASS provides community based HIV case management, testing and prevention services. Check out our events page to see where we will be next!