Pharmaceutical company Merck has partnered with the HIV initiative Prevention Access Campaign to unveil a new HIV-prevention project and survey called Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead.
As part of the program, a new survey has been released showing that young people are particularly underinformed about HIV and its transmission. The results showed that 41 percent of HIV-negative Gen Z respondents were either not at all informed or only somewhat informed about HIV, and among millennials, that dropped to 23 percent.
Due to the widespread misconceptions stemming from lack of education about the virus, 28 percent of HIV-negative millennials said they have avoided hugging, talking to, or being friends with someone with HIV, which cannot be transmitted through casual contact. Thirty percent said they would prefer not to interact socially with someone with HIV, and many said they have avoided shaking hands or sharing food.
Given that level of stigma, it's no surprise that 76 percent of young adults said they were hesitant to share their status to avoid being judged. A whopping 90 percent said they didn't share their status out of fear of losing friends or family, or of experiencing abuse.
When it came to HIV prevention, more than half of respondents said they didn't use condoms or PrEP.
The survey was conducted by the Kantar Group between June 17 and August 5 and involved 1,596 people between the ages of 18 and 36. The research comes as rates of transmission for people aged 25 to 29 increased, while transmission among the general population fell.
Bruce Richman, founding executive director of Prevention Access Campaign, called the findings a "call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over."
"Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV," said Richman, who is also the founder of the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign, in a statement.
"It's time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America's young people," he added, "and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma."
In order to address the knowledge gap, the Owning HIV campaign will continue researching beliefs and perceptions about HIV among young Americans. According to campaign organizers, the research will help target educational resources and materials to those who need it most.
"We are proud to partner with the community to conduct this campaign and ultimately have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities experienced by young adults living with and affected by HIV in the U.S.," said Dr. Eliav Barr, senior vice president, Global Medical Affairs, Merck Research Laboratories. "We are actively applying these findings to inform forward-looking programming that will seek to educate and empower this population."
"Our goal is to help improve overall understanding and literacy while elevating the urgency around this critical public health issue," Barr continued.
Merck and Prevention Access Campaign say they will release additional survey data in the months ahead, with more granular information about sub-populations.
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