Commentary by Adam Tenner: We Can't Lose Focus On HIV/AIDS | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Commentary by Adam Tenner: We Can't Lose Focus On HIV/AIDS

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Adam Tenner is the executive director of Metro TeenAIDS.
Adam Tenner
Adam Tenner is the executive director of Metro TeenAIDS.

If you remember the early days of AIDS, when we lost so many, so fast, what I'm going to tell you may make you feel old.

But if you turn 13 today, you were born in 1998, 17 years after AIDS was first highlighted by the CDC. And sadly, if you turned 13 today, about one-third of your peers may already be at risk for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea or pregnancy.

While 30 years have passed, we've not come very far in providing young people with the right building blocks for making healthy choices when it comes to HIV risk. We're not doing it well enough in schools, we're not doing it well enough at home.

A former employee, Monica, used to say, "I got 10 minutes of HIV education in 10th grade and it wasn't enough." Monica was 21 when she died of HIV-related causes. Since the day she died, I've been committed to figuring out how to put Metro TeenAIDS out of business. I've also spent some time trying to re-think this fight.

First, we must fix our education system. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that many kids in D.C. schools aren't getting the health education they need. When kids are not getting the right information, we sentence them to making under-informed choices, poor choices that have kept Washington, D.C. among the worst cities in federal health statistics for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, obesity, and the like for so many years.

We should be testing students for health education competency just like we do for math, reading and science skills.

Parents and teachers quite simply need more information and support. Talking to kids about sex is not easy. And while D.C. Public Schools have a robust system to help teachers deliver sexual and reproductive health curricula, many other schools do not.

Parents get almost no support when it comes to talking to kids about sex. In a survey of D.C. parents we did in 2008, 90 percent were concerned about the high rates of HIV and STDs. And an equal 90 percent of parents said they were interested in getting training from professionals on how to talk to their kids.

One thing about reducing the spread of HIV hasn't changed in 30 years: with the proper knowledge and tools, young people can protect themselves from ever contracting HIV. It's time we made a commitment to get it right, for the sake of our children.

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