News and HeadlinesIndianapolis Local News

Actions

Program helps Indy teens and young adults recently diagnosed with HIV

positive youth action
Posted at 10:59 PM, Apr 07, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s talk about sex — sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention that is.

“Knowledge is power," Nicholas Atkinson-Tavai said. "Knowing your status is powerful because by knowing your status, you not only know how to protect yourself, but you also know how to protect others."

When Atkinson-Tavai graduated from Indiana University in 2021, he learned his status had changed.

“I’m not the type of person that could just sit in sorrow. I felt like I had to do something," he said.

That something was getting involved in Positive Youth Action at Damien Center.

“Being a young person living with HIV, you’d be surprised at how few resources are actually focused on youth — I mean support groups, online — there’s just not very much," Atkinson-Tavai said.

Positive Youth Action engages young adults aged 16 to 24 who are HIV-positive and at-risk in Indianapolis.

One of its biggest goals is to equip young people with the tools to take control of their sexual health.

HIV is affecting young people in Indianapolis at a rising rate.

Folks aged 16 to 24 accounted for 55 of the 271 new infections in 2019.

“Youth and young adults are less likely to get tested. They’re less likely to have access to maintaining a low viral load for a multitude of reasons, a lot of that is stigma," Youth Program Specialist Evren Elliott said.

In order to reduce stigma, Elliott says parents need to start having some uncomfortable conversations with their children.

“Talking about sexual health, testing and all of those things can seem scary," Elliott said. "But it’s better to come from you. [Then] you give power to your kid to have those conversations with you later on, that might lead to things like ‘I might need to get tested’ or ‘I need guidance in treating something that is going on."

National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is on Monday.

Atkinson-Tavai says it's coming at a particularly trying time for the queer community.

“It is coming at a time when many different parts of the LGBT community are, I would say, under attack. There are individuals in our community whose very existence, or access to their very existence, are being legislated right now. That’s very scary. That’s what makes all of our voices so much more powerful and meaningful," Atkinson-Tavai said.