World AIDS Day is observed on Dec. 1, and experts at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic are encouraging more testing and education among teens to help rid the growing sigma of HIV.

Stigma behind HIV

Dr. Ruth Buzi, associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine and director of social services at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic, explains why HIV testing is so important.

One of the many barriers to treating HIV is the stigma that surrounds the condition, according to Dr. Ruth Buzi, associate professor and director of social services at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic. This can prevent individuals from getting tested or treated.

“It’s not easy to remove stigma, but the more we have conversations the more we remove the shame, and we are able to treat it like any other chronic illness,” Buzi said. “Conversations and education about HIV make it more like a chronic infection that has to be treated instead of a shameful condition.”

The stigma associated with HIV not only prevents some teens from getting screened, but even from being treated if they do test positive. They are reluctant to get care because they don’t want to be seen by others at a clinic, Buzi said. Some teens may go into denial about the condition and act like they are not being affected, which may put others at risk.

“We are actively doing HIV testing at all of our clinic locations,” she said. “When we present HIV testing or have discussions about HIV with our teens we communicate risk so that teens cannot pretend that HIV is not an issue.”

Education reduces risk

By spreading information and educating teens about the potential risks of HIV, it also will help them identify strategies to reduce risk.

Educating teens on the mode of transmission is very important. “There are still some misperceptions about how you get infected. It is very important for young people to have a real understanding of how they can be infected,” she said.

To help reduce the risk of contracting HIV, Buzi recommended taking these steps into consideration,

  • Get tested
  • Know your partner’s status
  • Refrain from unprotected sex
  • Be well educated about the transmission of HIV
  • Talk to a healthcare professional about potential risks, and get treated if necessary
  • Utilize Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill used to prevent HIV infection, to lower chances of getting infected.

Parents and other members of the community also play an important role in HIV education, Buzi said.

“We have to encourage parents to have discussions with their young children about the reality of HIV, including finding ways to protect themselves from risk. We need our schools to communicate the risk to young people, and we need the media to make sure that we don’t forget the real issues. We have to be really well educated so we can remove stigma and engage in conversations about the reality of HIV to create a more compassionate community.”