Skip to main content

'Glee' actor: Reach globally to teach youth about AIDS

By Alex Newell, Special to CNN
updated 1:13 AM EST, Sun December 2, 2012
Students listen to a a health counselor talking about HIV and AIDS prevention in a mobile clinic at a high school in South Africa.
Students listen to a a health counselor talking about HIV and AIDS prevention in a mobile clinic at a high school in South Africa.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alex Newell says he grew up in a melting pot near Boston, exposed to diverse humanity
  • Social media mirrors that globally, crucial to AIDS education for youth
  • He says young people globally make up 40% of new infections, many have little health care
  • Newell: Especially on World AIDS Day, reach out to ensure others educated about AIDS

Editor's note: Alex Newell plays the recurring role of "Wade 'Unique' Adams" on FOX's "Glee," a male-to-female transgender teenager who expresses her female identity through music, and recently hosted Planned Parenthood's World AIDS Day webcast, "Fighting for the Healthiest Generation," in New York City.

(CNN) -- I grew up about 30 minutes north of Boston in a town that was a virtual melting pot — I was exposed to all different backgrounds, cultures, and religions, fueling my personal interests in global issues. My teenage years were dotted by regular interactions with people like me from all around the world — people I could connect with about these issues.

I was lucky to be able to expand my understanding of the world in this way. Now, with the arrival of Facebook, YouTube and other social media, young people everywhere in the United States have an incredible opportunity to learn from their peers in other countries and partner to make a huge impact in addressing global health issues.

Alex Newell
Alex Newell

I know how hard it can be for young people in high school, college, or just starting out, to balance schoolwork, relationships and other activities. But today is World AIDS Day, and we should each find a way to use the moment to raise awareness about this global pandemic and unite in the fight against HIV.

That's why this weekend I participated in an event with young reproductive health advocates from New York who got up early to tune into a live webcast from Johannesburg, South Africa. The webcast featured young leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS responding to questions from the youth in New York and around the world.

The conversation focused on how young people are leading the charge in HIV advocacy and prevention, and it was a part of Planned Parenthood Global's and the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS' efforts to mark World AIDS Day on Saturday.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Those young people include folks like Brandon, 17, and Lena, 19, who work with their peers at Planned Parenthood Metro Washington's Ophelia Egypt Center. The Egypt Center is a community program that helps educate young people about reproductive health. Brandon and Lena are both giving back to their community and making sure their peers have accurate and comprehensive information about their health care.

That's how we're going to fight HIV/AIDS -- by engaging and empowering young people to help themselves and their peers stay HIV free. This is the demographic that is most vulnerable to unintended pregnancy, STDs and HIV/AIDS. In fact, worldwide, young people still make up about 40 percent of all new HIV infections.

Clinton: Condoms are key in AIDS fight
U.N. chief on his toughest challenge

While we've made a lot of progress in fighting HIV, we know there is great room for improvement. In many countries around the world, young people are still often unable to access quality health care. Testing and treatment can be problematic where resources and geography make it difficult.

In the United States, the situation isn't much better, especially for young people. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report finds that more than half of people infected with HIV in the U.S. aged 13 to 24 don't know they have it. That same age group is responsible for more than a quarter of new U.S. infections each year.

On "Glee," we often tackle the tough topics that young people face — in fact, my recurring character, Wade "Unique" Adams, is a transgender teenager who finds herself navigating a lot of the same problems many young people face around the globe.

While these challenges are different everywhere, young people now see themselves connected to the world beyond our borders. The Internet, mobile technology, the 24-hour news cycle and immigration have all helped contribute to this new global identity. We are living in a world that is increasingly without borders.

That's why events like the one I participated in this weekend are so important — they help open a dialogue between young health advocates in the United States and the rest of the world on what programs and policies need to be put in place. We need these global conversations if we are going to win the battle against HIV, because there is so much we can learn from one another's successes and continued challenges.

Of course, it won't all rest on our shoulders. Some of our leaders already know just how important this issue is for young people.

Thanks to President Barack Obama, under the Affordable Care Act, millions more people will be eligible for health insurance, including many people with HIV. In November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recommended that all Americans aged 15-65 receive routine HIV testing, not just those most at risk. If finalized, this would mean insurers would have to cover HIV screening without a co-pay, saving young people some much-needed money.

With new investments in medically accurate sex education and the evolution of health technology as a means to educate and communicate with more people than ever before, we have new tools to address the HIV epidemic.

On World AIDS Day and every day, there is much to be done. Talk to your friends, schoolmates and family — face to face or online — about this global problem, ensure your loved ones get the information and care they need and deserve, and let your legislators know that you support policies that help young people get the care they need.

It will be impossible for us to eradicate HIV as long as any corner of the world is cut off from the education and services that we know helps stop the spread of this disease.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Newell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT