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 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT