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Why young people aged 20 to 34 represent more than half of HIV cases

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Why young people aged 20 to 34 represent more than half of HIV cases

Data from the Ministry of Health’s most recent epidemiological bulletin on HIV/AIDS, released this Wednesday (1st), World Day to Fight AIDS, revealed that young people are the ones with the highest incidence of the disease.

Of the cases registered between 2007 and June 2021, 52.9% were among young people aged 20 to 34 years.

Also according to the bulletin, between 2010 and 2020 there was a tendency for an increase in the detection of AIDS among young people aged between 15 and 29 years old and between 20 and 24 years old. “It is noteworthy that the increase in young people in these age groups was, respectively, 29.0% and 20.2% between 2010 and 2020”, says the report.

Experts consulted by CNN point out that the high number of cases among young people is associated with the lack of experience of the most serious period of the HIV epidemic, in the early 1980s, with the behavior profile of young people and with the trivialization and stigma related to the disease.

The trivialization of the disease favors an increase in cases

In the last 40 years, since the discovery of the first cases of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), technological changes, especially in the areas of medicine and pharmacology, have led to significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the infection.

Unlike the first drugs used against HIV, such as zidovudine, also known as AZT, currently available therapies have fewer side effects and are more effective in preventing viral replication.

Advances in treatment, with consequences for improving the quality of life of patients, allowed AIDS to be understood as a chronic disease, as well as diabetes and hypertension. If, on the one hand, this favors adherence to treatment, it contributes to reducing the stigma on the disease, on the other hand, the trivialization of the disease is also associated with an increase in the number of cases.

For infectologist Fabiana Lopes Custódio, young people tend to underestimate the risks related to STIs, especially because they have not witnessed the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when there was a greater number of deaths from the disease.

“The young man thinks it won’t happen with him. He doesn’t see himself in a vulnerable situation. I hear a lot of phrases from patients in the office like ‘if I get HIV, it’s ok, there’s treatment and today it’s a chronic disease like any other’. This relaxation opened up possibilities for the increase of other STIs”, said Dr. Joel Domingos Machado, a doctor at the School Health Center, linked to the Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo (USP).

The opinion is also shared by infectologist from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Brenda Hoagland. “It is part of a young person’s characteristic to be more daring, not to follow rules, to follow the opposite of what is said. It is natural that they end up exposing themselves more and accepting less prevention measures and guidelines”, he says.

The infectologist from Fiocruz defends that awareness campaigns for the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) be reformulated, in order to reach the younger public.

“The challenge is to bring to the youngest a language that they understand, accept and understand that the message is aimed at their group. It’s no use just using old techniques, such as brochures, newsletters or grimacing commercials. This will not attract attention”, he says. “We need young people working with us within the context of prevention, so that they can translate this to social networks”, he adds.

Stigma hinders adherence to testing

Regular testing for HIV and other STIs makes it possible to interrupt the chain of transmission. Tests can be performed free of charge by the Unified Health System (SUS) in basic health units and Testing and Counseling Centers (CTAs) – know where to take the exams.

According to physician Fabiana Custódio, the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS makes people stop seeking specialized care and undergo tests. “A common concern among young people is that other people find out about being diagnosed with HIV or STIs, which rules out the search for medical care. The test results are confidential”, he says.

Fiocruz researcher Brenda Hoagland explains that advances in technical and scientific knowledge led to the development of the concept of combined prevention, which brings together different strategies to prevent the transmission and transmission of HIV and other STIs.

“Health facilities offer condoms, and pre- and post-HIV exposure prophylaxis. But it could be that the environments are not yet friendly or attractive to this younger population. Now that we have all the prevention tools available, it’s up to us to work on the language and the environments to receive this younger population”, he says.

Dr. Joel Domingos Machado, School Health Center physician, Fabiana Custódio, explains that STIs can present a wide variety of symptoms that deserve attention, such as discharge, warts, ulcers, itching (itching), local pain and skin lesions.

“All of these signs and symptoms affect anyone’s well-being. By avoiding these diseases, we avoid complications. An STI can lower the patient’s self-esteem and the practice of safer sex,” he said.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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