The Millennial Generation in the new age of HIV/AIDS
“Generation X”, the “Baby Boomers”, and all generations born before can remember a world without AIDS. These generations can remember when HIV (The Human Immunodeficiency Virus –the virus that causes AIDS) was first discovered. Above all, they knew the fear of death that loomed with a positive diagnosis.
However, for today’s younger generation, The “Millennials” (born between 1982-2004), the same fear is not connected with this disease. They have seen celebrities like Magic Johnson live with the disease for almost 20 years and perceive it to be a manageable condition, much like any chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension. Just take a pill every day and life goes on. While we can be grateful for the medical marvels that have allowed countless individuals to live a productive life after diagnosis, it is concerning that it has produced a sense of complacency among our younger generation.
In February of this year, the Centers for Disease Control reported that new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States have risen for the first time since 1993. While minor, it causes public health workers to wonder if a casual perception of living with HIV/AIDS has led to less cautious behaviors among today’s youth. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 1.2 million people living with HIV but 1 in 8 do not know it. In other words, those engaging in risk taking behaviors such as unprotected sex or IV drug needle sharing are not getting tested and treated for the disease.
This data suggests that the public may believe it is impervious to this health threat. This is a call for continued vigilance in public health practices such as education, consistent condom use, not sharing IV needles, regular testing and above all, treatment for those living with HIV.
On December 1, we recognize “World AIDS Day”. This day is meant to remember the dark days when a positive diagnosis meant a certain death. It is a time to celebrate the fact that we have come a long way since those early years, while cultivating a culture of awareness and prevention so that no generation has to live under the cloud of fear again.