Local health advocates are calling on Washington, D.C. youth to participate in the 2012 International Conference on AIDS—or AIDS 2012—which will be held at the Washington Convention Center from July 23-27, 2012.

President Barack Obama in 2010 lifted the HIV travel ban, allowing the global conference to be held in the United States for the first time in 20 years. Organizers said Washington D.C. seemed the most appropriate venue for the momentous conference.

“What better city to hold this conference in? Not only is it the capital of the United States, but it is the capital of HIV,” said Maranda Ward, an official for the D.C. Community Coalition (DCC), a consortium of more than 20 area HIV service organizations and the local co-sponsor of the conference.

According to local health statistics, one in 20 adults and one in 100 youth are infected with HIV. Globally, 5.4 million young people are living with HIV and almost half of all new HIV infections in the world occur among people under age 25. Statistics highlight the need for youth awareness and involvement in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, said Ward, a co-chair of DCC’s Youth Core.

“Youth that live in D.C. are becoming sexually active in a city that is saturated with high rates of HIV,” and other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia,” she told the AFRO. “It’s really important that they see HIV as an important issue that they should have a perspective on and have a voice in.”

Organizers said the conference will provide an opportunity for experts to groom young HIV/AIDS advocates. It will also give youths an opportunity to become educated about the disease, including breakthrough treatments and research findings.

“We have the tools, for the first time, to end the AIDS epidemic and this conference will provide us the opportunity to lay that out,” said Phill Wilson, director of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. Wilson, who made his statements in a video promoting the conference, is also a member of the AIDS 2012 Conference Coordinating Committee.

More than 200 youth delegations are expected to come from nations across the world to participate in a slate of youth-focused activities, organizers said. The Youth Pavilion in the Global Village will be the main networking space for young people at AIDS 201, offering workshops, performances and exhibitions. They can also attend a youth pre-conference at Gallaudet University, organizers said.

“The conference is free,” Ward said. “It will be entertaining and informative. There is really no reason why youth shouldn’t come. The only reason they shouldn’t come is if they don’t know about it.”

Conference organizers are spreading the word online and through traditional media, such as local newspapers.

For more information, log onto www.AIDS2012.org, check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aids2012 or follow the conversation on Twitter at @youthaids2012 and @aids2012.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO