As World AIDS Day is commemorated Dec. 1, experts at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic are emphasizing their messages to teens and adolescents: reduce risky behaviors and make sure you know your HIV status.
"Our demographic data is revealing that adolescents and young adults, especially males, have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS than previously thought. That makes it especially important to talk about risk reduction early and often," said Dr. Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor Teen Health Clinic.
To reduce risk, teens and young adults should remember their ABCs – practice Abstinence, Be faithful, and wear Condoms, Smith said. At the Teen Health Clinic’s seven locations, this message is reinforced through both traditional and new methods.
"The staff at all of our clinics encourage adolescents and youth to make good decisions about all behaviors, including sexual behaviors," Smith said. "In addition, we have implemented our messaging through electronic platforms that are effective with young people by using text messaging and our blog to continue to reinforce good behavior and urge our patients to think twice about risky behavior."
These electronic efforts were made possible through a grant from the Spirit Golf Association, a nonprofit organization founded by BCM board member Corby Robertson.
One of the most concerning risky behaviors seen among patients at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic is adolescents and young adults, especially males, who are having sex with members of the opposite and the same sex but who in most cases do not identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual or communicate their sexual patterns to their partners.
This is a significant risk factor for men and women alike, Smith said.
"Most young women who are having sex are sophisticated enough to realize there is a possibility their partner may not be monogamous, but in most cases they don’t consider that the other person in the equation is not another woman, but a man," Smith said. "We urge young women to always use a condom if they are sexually active, even if they are in a committed relationship."
The second message promoted at the Teen Health Clinic is to know your HIV status. This is important so that adolescents can reduce the risk to their sexual partners but also so they can start receiving medical care, Smith said. HIV is now a manageable disease with the right medications and health care, she said.
Knowing your HIV status has been made easier through testing that now offers rapid results and through the opt-out rule, meaning patients are automatically tested unless they specifically request to opt out.
Smith and her colleague Dr. Ruth Buzi, director of social services for the Baylor Teen Health Clinic, recently attended 2012 National Summit on HIV and Viral Hepatitis Diagnosis, Prevention and Access to Care in Washington, D.C., where the presented the results of their study, "Opt-Out HIV Testing: The Teen Health Clinic Experience."
World AIDS Day events
They and other staff at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic will also participate in local World AIDS Day events Saturday, Dec. 1, including:
The 13th annual World AIDS DAY program at the Thomas Street Health Center, 2015 Thomas Street. The event starts at 10 a.m. and features the Tree of Remembrance, where clinic clients, staff and public place a Christmas ornament on the tree in honor of loved ones who have died due to AIDS.
The T.R.U.T.H. Project, St. John’s Downtown, 2019 Crawford St., 6 p.m. This project uses artistic expression to bring awareness about HIV/AIDS to the African American gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and promote HIV testing.
For more information about the Baylor Teen Health Clinic visit its website at www.teenhealthclinic.org.