YouthCo Editorial

Young people continue to be a population that is at high risk for HIV infection. This year, in Canada, the average age of HIV infection is 23.

Youth Community Outreach AIDS Society (YouthCO) was formed in 1993 in response to the lack of youth-specific programming in Canada. YouthCO is Canada’s only AIDS Service Organization working exclusively with youth (ages 15-29) to address issues around HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C (HCV). We provide educational and skills building initiatives as well as support services for youth infected with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS or co-infected with HIV and HCV. YouthCO is run by and for youth and we aim to foster independence and ingenuity by providing outreach, prevention education, training, volunteer opportunities and support to our peers. We at YouthCO endeavor to reflect the diversity of all communities affected by HIV/AIDS and HCV. This includes individuals of any age, race, religion, culture, ability, economic level and health status. We are men, women, and transgendered; we are gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight and we value our diversity.

YouthCo's services have never been so necessary as they are now. For the first time in many years, HIV infection rates are on the rise, especially among youth. Last year, the BC Centre for Disease and Control noted a 71% increase in infections in young men who have sex with men. As well, rates of HIV/HCV co-infection are steadily climbing. In terms of youth being affected by HIV, many have the responsibility of caring for family members living with HIV/AIDS and/or have to deal with being ostracized for being HIV positive. Another detrimental aspect youth experience is dealing with the many myths and stereotypes around HIV/AIDS. In order to deconstruct these stereotypes, we are dedicated to educating youth on issues such as sexism, homophobia, classism, racism and the ways these issues intersect with HIV/AIDS.

YouthCO is dedicated to the local and international fight against HIV/AIDS. Currently, HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drugs cost $10, 000/year US if they are from one of the patents to manufacture the drugs. The same anti-retroviral treatment in generic drugs costs $350/year US.

Obviously, generic competition for HIV/AIDS drugs simply brings down the cost of the same-but-generic drugs. The generic price, however, is still hefty for those developing countries that can put little more than $10 US per person per year into their health care system. The challenge for humanity is to level and even raise the bar on who has access to medicines.

Ideally, every person who lives with HIV/AIDS should have access to HIV/AIDS medications. The local issue is that our own government is part the moral, political, and credibility problem as shown by their behavior in the TRIPS negotiations, the trade agreement under the WTO that includes patenting of drugs and essential medicines.

It's time for the Canadian HIV/AIDS community to open our eyes to our government's position; it's time to get informed, get angry, and get active.

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-Tamara Fernandez