HIV Cases among Youth on the Rise

Dorothy Rowley | 8/1/2012, 4:51 p.m.

"We were shocked when we learned what the city's statistics were," said Spencer, who added that while the current number of HIV-infected youth in D.C. is "relatively low," the Project's goal is to prevent infections before youth reach adulthood.

The Project, which offers an eight-week curriculum, targets youth ages 12 to 13 by going into the city's middle schools where Grassroot mentors provide instruction during physical education and health classes, Spencer said.

"We teach HIV basics about transmission and prevention, but also about general life skills," said Spencer, 26. He said having college athletes reach out to the students helps because they feel more comfortable discussing HIV with the athletes than with their teachers.

"The athletes fill an important niche because they're cooler than their parents and teachers but less judgmental than their peers," said Spencer.

Meanwhile, Pappas noted that up to 5,000 people with HIV - including a large number of African-American teens - in D.C. are unaware of their status.

"By being tested, you protect your health," Pappas said. "[Teens] also preserve the health of [their] friends, loved ones and community, because by being on medication and knowing [their] status, they're less likely to spread the disease."

Overall, the prevalence of HIV among District adults and youth now stands at 2.7 percent, according to the District's health report findings that were released in late June.

Today, Barnhill's work focuses on reaching students in the District's public and charter schools where he ensures they receive "quality information" through a curriculum called "Making Proud Choices."

"For the most part, young people are definitely listening and are getting the message loud and clear," Barnhill said. "But we're still concerned about those who don't really want to hear what we have to say by boasting that they already know everything there is to know about HIV/AIDS."