Education Remains Significant to Public Understanding About HIV, Prevention

As younger generations come of age, there is a continuous need to inform them about HIV risks, offer insights about prevention strategies, and understand the challenges for people living with HIV (PLWH).

We cannot assume that information about disease states, viruses, or any other health conditions are passed down from generation to generation and that these things do not need to be discussed anymore.

Much like we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, several years ago when HIV/AIDS became an emerging health care threat, it was considered a serious virus that often had fatal consequences. It caught people's attention and major awareness campaigns were conducted to educate the public about transmission and prevention.

In the ensuing years, the development of antiretroviral therapy (ART), changed the way society perceives HIV from a virus with deadly consequences to one that potentially can be a chronic condition. ART has been a treatment game changer for PLWH. In trying to prevent HIV, the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been a wonderful addition to the treatment armamentarium.

And while the addition of these therapies has been transformative, one area seems to be lagging behind: a lack of HIV education to younger generations. And this had led to an uptick in new infections in young people.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 4 (26%) of all new HIV infections is among youth ages 13 to 24 years. And about 60% of all youth with HIV do not know they are infected, are not getting treated, and can unknowingly pass the virus on to others.

In looking to combat the lack of information getting to young people, advocacy campaigns have been trying to fill this void. Merck, for example, has developed its Owning HIV awareness campaign, which was “created with Prevention Access Campaign and HIV advocates to inspire all of us to own the future of the HIV epidemic.” Merck conducted a survey amongst Millennials and Generation Z’s looking at their knowledge and attitudes towards HIV.

According to Merck, “survey findings uncovered a jarring trend of general confusion and insufficient knowledge about HIV and its transmission among survey respondents, along with the existence of high-risk sexual practices, poor disease management, and stigmatizing behaviors among young adults.”

In lending its support to educate the public, the Prevention Access Campaign developed its Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign, which aims to have the public understand that for those with undetectable levels of viral load cannot transmit HIV through sex.

Contagion spoke to Murray Penner, US executive director at Prevention Access, and he provided further insights into U=U, discussed the Owning HIV Survey results, the importance of PrEP, and the lingering stigma around HIV.