While El Salvador does not have one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS by far, the struggles that this country faces regarding HIV are mostly preventable, making it almost more frustrating to face.
HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the human immune system. When it breaks the immune system down enough, a person displays a set of symptoms called acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. A common misconception is that AIDS is a virus in and of itself, but it is merely a name for a set of varied symptoms.
There is not a high rate of HIV in El Salvador. However, the threat of a renewed epidemic remains, as only 36.5 percent of youth (age 15-24) in El Salvador know how to prevent it. The number of new HIV infections in this age group has been increasing since 2011. This highlights a major gap in sexual education offered in El Salvador, something UNAIDS Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean Alejandra Oraa seeks to correct.
While mother-to-child transmission of HIV is down to 0.5 percent of cases, the same cannot be said for the amount of cases contracted through sexual transmission. The limited access to sexual education in El Salvador stands in the way of halting the HIV epidemic.
The UNAIDS Country Director of El Salvador, Celina Miranda, said, “To end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, we cannot fail our young people and we cannot leave any of them behind. It is urgent to remove all barriers that limit their access to sexual and reproductive health and HIV services.”
Between August 9 and August 11, Oraa met with youth leaders and young people, and conducted a survey to analyze youth knowledge of HIV in El Salvador and how to prevent it. Currently, the National Network of Positive Youth, UNAIDS, the United Nations Population Fund, and the National Youth Institute all coordinate to provide outreach and awareness in public places. Between Friends (Entre Amigos) takes the face-to-face approach and offers combination prevention options.
The next step will be for the United Nations Children’s Fund and UNAIDS to use the findings of the survey to inform strategies and public policies to better prevent and reduce HIV infections among youth.
– Ellen Ray