December 1st is World AIDS Day, and this year’s theme is leadership. With nearly 2.5 million new cases of infection spreading each year, this disease is a global pandemic. In the U.S., one million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and close to a quarter of them do not know they are infected. You can take the lead by doing your part to stop HIV/AIDS. Raise awareness where it has the biggest impact – at home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 15 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases in 2006 occurred in young people between the ages of 13 and 24 years old. Men are more likely than women to become infected, and African Americans account for almost half of all new cases. The majority of new infections are transmitted during sexual contact (heterosexual and male-to-male).

The first step in combating this dangerous trend is education; however, debate still rages over what that should entail. The sexual education programs that are in schools vary substantially in the information offered. Some teach only abstinence; others teach about birth control options. Some educate on HIV/AIDS but not on other aspects of sexual health, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sex education is not federally mandated for all public schools, so program content is largely left to local school districts.

As the debate over sex education goes on, it can be agreed that the first place to teach young people about HIV/AIDS is at home. It is ultimately the parents’ responsibility to educate their children on the importance of practicing safe sex – not only to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, but also to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

Talking with Kids about Tough Issues (an initiative of the Kaiser Family Foundation) offers advice to parents on how to appropriately open up dialogue on this tough subject.

  • Before you talk to your kids, be sure you are straight on the facts. You can learn the specifics about HIV/AIDS through a number of online resources such as the , the CDC or WebMD.
  • Find the right moment to initiate a conversation. Opportunities to talk to your children about HIV/AIDS can happen when you come across a television show or magazine cover that presents the topic. Some experts suggest separating this issue from your child’s first talk about sex so that the child does not immediately associate sex with getting sick. However, it is important that he or she learns that an essential way to prevent the spread of HIV is through safe sex practices.
  • Tailor the discussion to your child. Make sure you use terms that are age-appropriate. For example, you can tell your eight-year-old that HIV or HIV/AIDS is a virus that makes you sick; however, to a teen, you can get more scientific and discuss how HIV attacks the blood cells that help you ward off disease.
  • Clear up any misconceptions that your child may have about how HIV is spread. Assure them that they cannot get infected from food, pets, shaking hands, mosquitoes, drinking at a fountain or from standing near someone with HIV/AIDS.
  • If your children are at an age where they might become sexually active, you need to help them make wise decisions about their sexual health. Whether you promote abstinence or safe sex, talking to your kids about this should be an ongoing conversation. Keep the lines of communications open.

For more information on how to educate your family on HIV/AIDS, visit Also, the federal government has a special site dedicated to information on AIDS news, research, testing, treatment and more; visit

The CDC states: “The growing number of people living with HIV in the United States points to an increased need for HIV testing, treatment, and prevention services to slow the U.S. epidemic.” You can get involved in the fight against AIDS and HIV by visiting the World AIDS Day website for resources and an events calendar.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America offers a poster on AIDS awareness with the message: “AIDS does not discriminate; learn how to protect yourself.” It can be ordered online through the Fund’s publication catalogue.

[Jennifer E. Jones]