Fighting to Save My Younger Brother’s Life

April 10, 2015

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Matthew Rose is an HIV and public health advocate based in Washington, DC. He is an adviser at the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative and also a member of AVAC’s PxROAR program and Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group.

His life and love are what hold us together in stories and statics. I think of him as my younger brother. Though it is not blood relation, we are related nonetheless. By something more than just the color of our skin but the attraction we feel within. The desire to press our flesh to another men’s flesh in a shared experience, to join with them in a moment of passion and pleasure. This desire marks this younger man as one like me. A younger self that walks his own path but still must navigate the barriers I could not clear away. Having to be unaware of that the map I tried to leave him, the secrets are tried to share are still out of his view.

Research tells us that current rates of HIV infection among a cohort of Black young gay men who are uninfected at age 18 will lead to, approximately 41 percent of them being HIV seropositive by age 40. We need to change that estimation. We have to find a way to stem the tide before the wave crests. Otherwise what hope do we have for generations of young men who are still waking to their sexuality and sexual orientation? Will they too be sentenced to this reality? When will we stop acting as if young people aren’t able to make decisions about what to do with their bodies and decisions about how to protect their bodies?

The breakwater starts by giving them power, choices, knowledge, and access to life changing options.

No state expressly prohibits minors’ access to PrEP or other HIV prevention methods. All jurisdictions expressly allow some minors to consent to medical care for the diagnosis or treatment of STIs, but only eight jurisdictions allow consent to preventive or prophylactic services.

In denying access to PrEP, we are taking away their ability to make choices later. By doing so, we take away an effective option at a time of great need, undercutting their ability to thrive.

On April 10 National Youth HIV Awareness Day, I want folks to remember that in U.S. there was an estimated 21 percent increase in HIV incidence in people aged 13-29 from 2006 to 2009. This increase was driven by a 34 percent increase in HIV incidence in young MSM — the only group to experience a significant increase in incidence in this age range.

We know that youth and young adults are the heart of the today’s epidemic… We also know that youth and young adults can, with the right information, make health decisions about their bodies. We’ve seen what access to contraception for young women has done in terms of engagement in health care. When systems are built to support the efforts of young people, young people use them to make a difference in their lives.

It means we need to better support these young people with options. Making sure they know how to and are able to reach their health potential. Youth and young adults are rising up all over this country to take on the fight to end to this epidemic. Part of supporting that effort means not limiting their options. We need to offer access to a full array of prevention choices and educate our younger brothers. To be empowered to make decisions that will help to end this epidemic.