When I see the lead-in to stories such as “Reality check” (Carol Cole-Frowe, Dec. 1, Gazette) blaming HIV (yet again) on the “younger generation,” I wonder why we continue to ignore two decades of careful epidemiological research clearly showing HIV/AIDS is being contracted at dramatically older ages and is increasingly concentrated in impoverished populations.
In 1993, just 16 percent of new HIV cases were diagnosed in Americans age 40 and older; today, a staggering 43 percent. The AIDS epidemic is aging rapidly in Oklahoma, where Department of Health reports show new HIV/AIDS diagnoses more than doubled among ages 40 and older over the last dozen years.
Despite the fact that middle-agers are far less likely to live in hazardous conditions of disadvantage and poverty than are young people, the number of new HIV/AIDS cases among age 40-49 now exceeds those among age 13-24. How officials and experts can be missing this startling trend in a deadly disease is baffling.
Unfortunately, news stories continue to recycle the myth that AIDS is just the result of bad teenage attitudes and the “mentality” of the “younger generation.” As one who worked with young people for 15 years, I feel this smug image perpetuates the dangerous pretense that youth behaviors can be neatly walled off from those of adults and obscures the serious risks youths in destitute and runaway situations face.
That the richest older generation in American history forces millions of young people to grow up in severe poverty exposes youths to many dangers, one of which is contracting HIV from partners, prostitution clients and exploiters who tend to be much older. Oklahoma, like America, has suffered inexplicable eruptions in drug abuse, suicide, crime, violence arrest, imprisonment and HIV among middle-agers (the generation parenting adolescents) that authorities and the news media have proven extraordinarily reluctant to acknowledge. That’s the “reality check” affecting young and old alike we should be confronting.