Youth group to host HIV awareness event April 10

In recognition of National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day on Thursday, April 10, a youth leadership program of Project ARK and The SPOT will host an open-mic event to encourage young people to talk about HIV/AIDS and sexual health.

The leadership program — the Youth Advocacy Committee — will host the event from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at Blank Space, 2847 Cherokee St., in St. Louis. Blank Space is a mixed-use community space that features concerts, poetry readings, art shows and other events.

The mission of the Youth Advocacy Committee is to allow and encourage St. Louis-area youths to have a voice on the topic of HIV/AIDS and sexual health. The committee’s parent programs, Project ARK and The SPOT, are programs of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. They provide a range of services for youths ages 13-24, among them HIV/AIDS education, testing, prevention services and social support.

At the root of the national Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is the belief in youth activism and in young people’s ability to not just transform their own lives, but the lives of their peers and beyond. On April 10, young people across the country will host movie screenings, poetry slams and testing events and speak at church meetings and other venues to educate about the necessity of engaging young people on the topic of HIV/AIDS.

“It is more important than ever to recommit to the fight against HIV and AIDS by investing in young people,” said Lawrence E. Lewis, youth services coordinator of Project ARK and The SPOT. “Young people must be brought to the table not only as partners, but as leaders who can truly change the tide of this epidemic. Only by fully investing in young people – in their health, their education and their leadership – can we reach an AIDS-free generation.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 26 percent of all new HIV infections occur among young people ages 13 to 24. Of those, African-American youth and young gay and bisexual men are most at risk. Nearly 60 percent of new infections in young people are among African Americans, while 87 percent of infections among young males are in gay and bisexual men.

In Missouri, 29 percent of new HIV cases in 2012 were among young people ages 13-24, according to the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services. Further, the number of new HIV cases among youth has increased 8.9 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the state.

Many of these youths are at higher risk due to factors they have little control over, including lack of access to health care and relevant sex education, Lewis said.

“We have an alarming health issue on our hands,” said Katie Plax, MD, medical director of Project ARK and The SPOT and an associate professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine. “In St. Louis, we have some real work to do to sustain and intensify our efforts to prevent new HIV infections and to get those who are infected into care.”

In recognition of the need for such efforts, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a proclamation last month declaring April 10 Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day in the state.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.