LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
All this month we've been focusing on education, and today we're going to examine an issue that affects the lives of many students who live in the nation's impoverished inner cities.
Ms. SHIRA SCHWARTZBERG(ph) (Volunteer, Metro Teen Aids): Do you guys know the names of any specific STDs? Just yell them out to make a list.
Unidentified Woman #2: HIV.
HANSEN: Metro Teen Aids is a nonprofit organization that works to bring HIV and AIDS education to Washington D.C. schools. The nation's capital has the highest rate of reported cases of AIDS.
Mr. JEFF GLUCKMAN (Volunteer, Metro Teen Aids): So, HIV definitely can be transmitted by sharing needles and so can some other viruses like Hepatitis B.
HANSEN: At Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast D.C., Metro Teen Aids volunteers Shira Schwartzberg and Jeff Gluckman teach a class called Making Proud Choices to a small but enthusiastic group of students in an after school program. The group's executive director, Adam Tenor, says that HIV thrives in places with poor educational systems and high levels of poverty.
Mr. ADAM TENOR (Executive Director, Metro Teen Aids): In D.C., quite shamefully, is one of those places. We have higher AIDS case rate and HIV case rate than New York, Houston, Miami - much, much bigger cities. I think that as long as we continue to have such high inequality in the District, such high unemployment, low disparate wages between African-Americans and white that I think we'll continue to see HIV flourish.
HANSEN: Tenor says that he personally has seen how this generation has been affected by HIV.
Mr. TENOR: When we ask young people in classrooms how many of you know somebody living with HIV, you know, somebody in your family, somebody close to you, about 50 to 60 percent of young people will raise their hand, and this is devastating. So we're dealing with a very quiet, very deadly epidemic that's going on.
HANSEN: To talk more about HIV and AIDS education, we turn to Dr. John Jemmott, a professor and specialist in health psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Jemmott has helped to develop the curriculum taught in HIV/AIDS awareness classes across the country, including those used by Metro Teen Aids in D.C. Dr. Jemmott, thanks a lot for joining us.
Dr. JOHN JEMMOTT (Professor, Specialist in Health Psychology, University of Pennsylvania): Happy to be here.
HANSEN: What do you think is the most important thing that should be emphasized when you're dealing with high-risk teens in urban areas?
Dr. JEMMOTT: Well, obviously, the best strategy would be to practice abstinence and to delay sexual involvement as much as possible. And then second would be to use condoms consistently. And then the third thing is one that I think has been pretty neglected, and that's limiting one's sexual partners - having as few sexual partners as possible if you do have sex.
HANSEN: You know, safe sex education and abstinence education are often at odds with each other. Is abstinence education having a tangible effect?
Dr. JEMMOTT: I believe that it can. There's been a lot of sort of critiques of abstinence education and these critiques have shown that much abstinence education is flawed in terms of providing information that's inaccurate, not factual. And sometimes it's very moralistic and doesn't do a really good job of motivating people to practice abstinence.
HANSEN: Have you heard anything about an affect that abstinence education is having?
Dr. JEMMOTT: Yes. We've actually studied abstinence education and we have found some success with such an intervention. We have a paper under review but we presented it at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in which we found that an abstinence curriculum reduced sexual involvement among young people for two years.
HANSEN: How do you answer the number of parents and religious groups who firmly believe that AIDS education should not be taught in the schools?
Dr. JEMMOTT: Well, the school is really the best place to teach it because it's the one place where you can pretty much be assured that you're going to reach the vast majority of young people before they even start to have sex. And there's no evidence of adverse effects of providing such education to young people. You know, it's sort of, like, popular wisdom to believe that if you teach children about sex that that's encouraging them to have sex.
But the data do not support that view at all. In fact, it contradicts that view.
HANSEN: Do you think HIV/AIDS education in schools is making a different on a national level?
Dr. JEMMOTT: I think it's making a difference. The trends have all been in the right direction in terms of the percentage of young people who are engaging in sexual activity and then also the increases in condom use that have occurred over time. And this has really been going on for quite a while, these positive changes.
HANSEN: Dr. John Jemmott is a professor specializing in health psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you.
Dr. JEMMOTT: Thank you.