HIV/AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate of 4 new infections a day in Japan. Combating ignorance is the key to preventing the spread of the disease among the younger population.
Despite the immense progress made in the medical understanding of HIV/AIDS in terms of prevention and treatment, in many parts of the world, including Japan, this information is not widely known.
Mrs. Akie Abe, the First Lady of Japan, is one of the most vocal leaders in calling out the need for HIV/AIDS awareness. At a symposium at the University of Tokyo on the 12th of April 2015, she addressed one of the major causes of HIV proliferation in Japan: ignorance.
Gathered as panelists at the event were prominent leaders in the global fight against HIV/AIDS – Dr. Peter Piot, Ms. Cristina Jade Pena, Dr. Aikichi Iwamoto, and Dr. Yuki Murakami – as well as nearly one hundred students from various high schools, colleges, and graduate schools. Guided by these speakers, the students engaged in a lively discussion on HIV/AIDS and the room buzzed with excitement about learning and sharing new ideas.
“Some people may think of HIV/AIDS as a disease only affecting drug users or the gay community but that’s not true. HIV/AIDS is a concern for everyone,” said Mrs. Abe. “And we must all address it with a sense of ownership.”
Mrs. Abe speaks the truth – no one is immune to HIV/AIDS. It can be transmitted to anyone who comes in contact with HIV-infected blood or body fluids such as semen, whether it’s through unprotected sex, blood transfusion, sharing needles, child birth or breastfeeding. Contrary to the image HIV had in the 1980’s, the virus does not choose who to infect. HIV is indiscriminate.
At the same time, HIV is arguably one of the most easily preventable infectious diseases. Practicing safer sex through the use of condoms and getting tested for HIV – which is free of charge in many local health centers – are simple ways to protect yourself, your partner, and your loved ones from HIV and its potentially fatal consequences.
So why aren’t we taking up these measures? Why is the number of HIV positive people increasing at a rate of 4 people a day? The problem in Japan, as pointed out by Mrs. Abe, is the reluctance of many young people to talk openly and honestly about sex.
“When it is about sex, people shy away,” agreed several high school students who took part in the event. “Until today, I never talked so openly about sexually transmitted diseases, but now I realize it isn’t such a difficult thing to do.”
“It can even be fun if it’s done in the right way,” added a 19-year-old female biology student as the event drew to a close.
The youth of Japan need to decide what the right way to talk about sex is. We need to start more conversations with our peers about sex and its many forms. We need access to the right sex education in order to be able to take the lead and create healthy, happy relationships for ourselves and others.
HIV can be prevented. By combating ignorance and becoming educated, we can together strive for a society that embraces diversity and is free from the threat of HIV/AIDS.