In an effort to engage youths as contributing members of the District’s efforts to End the HIV Epidemic campaign, separate focus groups were held with youths and youth providers. HAHSTA worked with its Youth Advisory Board to host an event for approximately 100 youths. Our conversation with providers included approximately 10 people.
Both groups noted that youths have a low perception of being susceptible to HIV. Youths have interpreted the absence of targeted HIV prevention messaging as evidence that the HIV epidemic does not affect them. Increased awareness of chlamydia and gonorrhea have resulted in these infections being the dominant focus of prevention and testing behaviors among youths — resulting in decreased use of HIV testing, PrEP, and PEP.
The impact of trauma on mental and behavioral health was discussed as another potential barrier to accessing sexual health services. Trauma-informed care is regarded as a critical part of ensuring that youth not only feel comfortable accessing services, but also feel heard during provider interactions in a way that allows for honest, comprehensive discussions about their sexual health.
Limited knowledge and understanding of the Minor Health Consent Law among both youths and youth providers was also discussed as a barrier to care, further supporting the call for improved knowledge and awareness across all aspects of youth sexual health and prevention efforts.
Young people demonstrate resilience as they adapt to change and challenges. They remain committed to their communities and social groups and regard these relationships as essential parts of their growth and development.
The experiences of youths are both valid and valuable and should be included in conversations about prevention efforts. Youth autonomy and influence should be regarded as an essential component of strategy-building that involves youth as both advisors and decision-makers.