Canadian Strategy on HIV/AIDS: Youth
Young people are key to the future course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Preventing HIV transmission among youth will be a determining factor in the course of the epidemic for decades to come.
Youth and HIV
Young Canadians who are sexually active and/or use injection drugs are at risk of HIV infection. Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic the average age of infection has decreased. Although young Canadians are better informed of how HIV is transmitted, there is ample evidence to suggest that youth do not always protect themselves or others. Sexually transmitted disease rates are generally falling, but are still highest among youth. Unplanned pregnancy, multiple sexual partners and sexual activity without protection are still common. Alcohol and other drug use is highest among youth and is associated with a risk of acquiring HIV.
Persistent HIV prevention efforts are required to keep youth well informed of the modes of transmission and means of protection from HIV infection. While this information is necessary, it is not sufficient to protect youth from infection. Young people also require guidance and assistance in understanding their personal values, in developing skills to protect themselves, and in recognizing how their social environments can help support them in making decisions. Parents, schools, public health and the professional community have an important role to play in providing information to young people and in creating supportive social environments.
Health Canada, in partnership with provincial and territorial departments of education, has identified HIV and sexual health in the school curriculum as an important issue and one that requires continuous attention. In addition to sexuality education, resources that address the issue of homophobia and the needs of northern students have also been developed. Future Health Canada initiatives include the expansion of a project with medical professionals to encourage youth to use condoms to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, in conjunction with the contraceptive pill to prevent unwanted pregnancy. In addition, Health Canada is working in collaboration with the Council of Ministers of Education and a group of researchers to investigate factors that determine or affect sexual health in youth and the links to HIV prevention.
Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth
Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth tend to leave school and their home environment early, and they are at greater risk of suicide, street involvement and drug use. These risks can be reduced by supportive social and family environments. Programs involving many community agencies that support youth have been developed to respond to the specific needs of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth.
Research on determinants of risk behaviour among young gay men reveal that issues such as loneliness, isolation, self-esteem, and lack of social support play an important role in risk-taking behaviour. Providing clear information and developing initiatives to address the social issues which affect risk behaviour will be key to reducing HIV infection among young gay men.
Marginalized youth are most at risk of HIV infection. They often experience minimal control of their lives and have few social supports. Street involvement, injection drug use, homelessness and poverty contribute to substantial risk of HIV infection. HIV prevention in this population requires attending to the basic necessities of life including food, shelter and social support. Harm reduction strategies are important, such as needle exchange programs that include access to addiction treatment, mental health services, and medical services. Housing, education and work opportunities for marginalized youth are also necessary.
For further information, contact:
HIV/AIDS Policy, Coordination and Programs Division
Phone: (613) 952-5258