A little while back someone in the office pointed out this interesting piece about the rise of AIDS among young men in NYC. I started wondering what could be done and I took my query to Mary Ann Cohen a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the co-editor of the Comprehensive Textbook of AIDS Psychiatry. Cohen wrote me back with the following illuminating response.
During a century when rapid advances in medicine led to near eradication of infectious diseases throughout much of the world, the emergence of HIV infection in 1981 led to an unexpected crisis in health care that has not yet resolved. Despite advances in the care of persons with HIV and AIDS, the pandemic still continues to grow. The increase in HIV infections in New York City that has been documented in the past five years in young gay men is of grave concern. Re-empowering gay young men and using young persons as educators will help to reverse this alarming trend while fear, blame, stigmatization, discrimination, and judgmental attitudes will only perpetuate HIV transmission by driving the pandemic underground and discouraging individuals from going for HIV counseling and testing. Adolescence and early adulthood are complex times of turmoil and change. Using adolescents as role models, working with young actors, actresses, singers, and sports stars may help to set a new tone. Identifying interested and enthusiastic young high school students, college students, and medical students who can provide workshops in schools and other venues where young people gather can help to provide role models with whom adolescents can identify and from whom they may be more open to learning about how to prevent HIV transmission. There is no simple solution for this complex problem. It is important to understand that the upsurge in HIV transmission is multi-factorial and has biological, psychological, social, and cultural components. Comparing, stigmatizing, and blaming can only serve to perpetuate the epidemic while understanding, educating, and empowering young people to teach each other healthier and safer modes of sexual gratification can decrease transmission of HIV and AIDS and help to resolve this health care crisis.