This was the key message delivered by acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand, to young people as they gathered recently, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, for a seminar hosted by UNICEF and the Evangelical Association.

Delivering the speech on behalf of Health Minister, Donville Inniss, Dr. Ferdinand reminded the youth that they continued to bear the brunt of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, with persons under age 25 accounting for more than half of all new HIV infections each year.

The Senior Health Official said: "Young people face particular vulnerabilities that put them uniquely at risk for HIV/AIDS", while pointing out that factors such as age, biological and emotional development and financial dependence placed them at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Ferdinard also noted surveys indicated that although many people worldwide had heard about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, awareness was not universal, in fact, many were still "unaware of how to protect themselves or harbored misconceptions about HIV transmission".

??"Many sexually active young people at risk for HIV do not perceive themselves to be at risk, even those in countries with very high prevalence. Moreover, most young people living with HIV do not know they are infected," Dr. Ferdinand explained.

Noting that studies indicated that the occurrence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) other than HIV among the youth was high, she further stressed that being infected with another STI increased the likelihood of both acquiring and transmitting HIV.

The youth were, however, encouraged to see themselves as critical to the response against HIV and AIDS, as the Acting CMO pointed out that evidence showed that where HIV transmission had been reduced, the greatest reductions were often seen amongst young people. She maintained:" We must remain committed to the goal of prevention, which, as the old adage says is better than cure, realising that in order to truly make an impact upon this epidemic means preserving all [persons] especially our youth,"??

Church leaders too were reminded of their vital role in encouraging and supporting young people.?? Dr. Ferdinand added: "There is nothing like the power of persuasion and the power of prayer. Throughout history, the Church has been known for its involvement in issues of health and wellness. In fact from the early days of Christianity the Church has been integral to the delivery and provision of health care."

Acknowledging that many hospitals and clinics were founded by churches and other faith-based organisations, she declared: "Our young ones need guidance and protection and this can best be gotten through prayers and developing a relationship with God. The Church can help the young build self-esteem, family values, proper relationships with the opposite sex and spirituality."

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