Today is World AIDS day. Around the world there are 35 million people living with HIV and another 19 million who are unaware of their status. Since the 1980s much progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. One such achievement is that 1.1 million new infections among children were prevented between 2005 and 2013.
In Mongolia HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasing. Nearly all new infects have been caused by unprotected sex. Studies have revealed that young people are engaging in risky sexual behaviors, increasing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. Another at risk group is men who have sex with men.
The fact that HIV/AIDS infections rates are increasing in Mongolia is very concerning. Other countries have managed to stop the number of infections from rising and in some cases even decreased it.
Key in the fight against HIV/AIDS is knowledge and information. In Mongolia while nearly everyone in the country has heard of HIV/AIDS, less than a quarter of young people know how it is transmitted and how you can protect yourself from it.
One of the ways that we have been trying to inform and educate young people on HIV/AIDS is through high schools. For the last decade health education, which covers a range of topics including HIV/AIDS, has been taught in Mongolian high schools. But this is under threat. Proposed changes to the curriculum will mean less time will be dedicated to health, and less opportunities to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.
UNICEF strongly believes that these health classes are very important to educating and informing young people of sexual health and is advocating that they continue. Moreover, we are encouraging that a nationwide standardized curriculum be developed, that incorporates international standards.
We also want to see the format and style of these classes change. From discussions with young people and research, it is clear that the classes in their current format are not making the difference they should, and need to be improved. Key to this, is engaging with adolescents in a meaningful way on the issue and finding out from them what the best way to reach them is.
Moreover, we need to empower young people to become peer advocates on this issue to their friends. To support their friends as they navigate this time in their lives and help them make safe choices for themselves. It is not enough for young people to know how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and how to prevent transmission, they must also be empowered to use that knowledge. Key to this are their peers.
One thing that is yet to be achieved in Mongolia is to create an environment where HIV/AIDS can be talked about freely, where everyone knows how to protect themselves, and where if necessary to go and get tested. Great progress has been made in Mongolia and around the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the last two decades. We need to make sure we do not get complacent and that we not only continue but increase our efforts to make the world free of HIV/AIDS by 2030.
Bolorchimeg Dagva is the HIV/AIDS Specialist at UNICEF in Mongolia