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Number of teenage male HIV carriers increasing

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The average age of local HIV carriers is getting ever-younger, with the incidence rate rising fastest among male teens, the non-profit Taiwan AIDS Foundation cautioned yesterday.

Quoting statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control under the Cabinet-level Department of Health, the foundation said the number of student HIV carriers increased by 110 in 2007 and rose further by 156 in 2008.

"The figures mark an alarming 42 percent year-on-year surge," said Lin Chiung-chao, the foundation's secretary-general.

In the past, Lin said, 70 percent of HIV carriers were aged between 20 and 40.

The trend, however, has gradually changed in recent years, with more and more of those in the 15-19 age group infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

"This is a general world trend, as the AIDS prevention publicity campaign has failed to catch up with the tendency that the average age of youngsters having sex for the first time has dropped to 16, " Lin explained.

He urged public health and education authorities to step up publicity efforts to raise local teens' awareness of the risk of AIDS and the importance of safe sex.

According to the results of the foundation's online surveys, 95 percent of Internet respondents said they would be willing to take HIV tests, with hospitals and public health centers their most favored places for such tests.

In addition, 20 percent said it would be acceptable for regular health checkups to include HIV tests.

Lin noted that 39 people tested HIV-positive at blood donation centers around the country in the five months of this year.

"The figure is relatively high, as the number of people who tested HIV-positive at blood donation centers was 67 for the whole of last year," Lin said, adding that more efforts should be made to educate people not to misuse blood donation as a method of free HIV testing.

He also urged those who indulge in high-risk sexual activity or who have shared syringes when abusing drugs to get tested for HIV within three months of taking part in such activities.

The Taiwan AIDS Foundation was established in 2005 to assist the government in various programs for AIDS prevention and control, as well as to promote international cooperation in combating AIDS.

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