Taking HIV/AIDS prevention to schools: the first Central Asian sub regional meeting of Ministers of Education
Sub regional meeting of representatives of Ministries of Education from Central Asia has been jointly oranized by UNICEF, UNESCO and UNODC in Tashkent during May 26-27, 2006.
“HIV/AIDS is not just a public health problem; it is a threat to the economic stability and the security of the entire country.” Reza Hossaini, Representative from UNICEF Uzbekistan.
Central Asia possesses the fastest growing rate of HIV/AIDS in the world today. Although the recorded number of cases is minimal comparatively speaking, the prevalence of the virus among young people provides a viable avenue for rapid spread across the region, significantly affecting future generations. Over 80% of Central Asians infected with HIV/AIDS are under the age of 30. If policy makers and educators do not step up efforts to better inform and genuinely alter the behavior of younger citizens, the sustainability of the entire region could be in jeopardy.
For the first time, representatives from Ministries of Education of four Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, met in Tashkent Uzbekistan along with representatives from UNICEF, UNESCO and UNODC, in effort to address the current HIV/AIDS situation in the region. It has become obvious that the issue has gone beyond the health sector and must be approached through education, both formal and informal. Due to prevalence in the younger generations, those aiming to fight the disease are shifting the focus of prevention to the education sector targeting those who are most vulnerable in becoming infected and spreading the disease. As mentioned, because the number of those infected with HIV/AIDS is still low, Central Asia has been granted a small window of opportunity that must be seized in order to manage the epidemic and dissipate the spread of HIV/AIDS across the region.
The objective of this two days conference was to develop a coherent and coordinated response to the spread of HIV/AIDS within the education system through discussing and planning strategies to enhance collaboration with other Ministries as well as UN and NGO partners. Participants were able to share to what extent the Ministries of Education currently are involved in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and what kind of partnerships with other Ministries or organizations are presently in place. Facilitators were able to collaborate with individuals and organizations working to establish essential steps for enhancing the response to HIV/AIDS; for instance, planning and implementing curriculum changes necessary for providing HIV preventive and Life Skills Education to young people in and out of schools.
The focal point of this conference centered around the prospect for Central Asian countries to work together, to learn from each other, and develop a common strategy for fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Each Central Asian country is unique in its current status regarding HIV/AIDS education programs, as each country has specific needs based on its educational, social and political situation. However, there are also similarities across the region where common objectives and strategies can be carried out. Using strengths from neighboring countries, the states of Central Asian can work together to build a systematic approach for integrating HIV/AIDS education; addressing all citizens while focusing on the most vulnerable age groups and populations.
Without enforcing and implementing preventive strategies involving young citizens of Central Asia, the epidemic will continue to thrive and quickly get out of control. Due to the negative stigmatism and discriminating attitudes toward those infected with the virus, it can be difficult to openly fight the battle. This mind-set often causes a road block in providing information geared at stopping the spread of HIV as well as helping those with the virus. By working together, citizens of Central Asia can work to educate the public and provide examples of needed behavioral changes that will put a stop to the spread of HIV/AIDS. As supported by the Minister of Education for Uzbekistan Mr. Turobjon Djuraev, “By hosting events such as these and working to increase the information available to the public, we can help eradicate the problem.”