What is the role of the education sector in the battle against HIV/AIDS?
The FRESH framework provides a model for linking HIV/AIDS-specific approaches with a broader school health programme. See "A FRESH Start to HIV/AIDS Prevention."
The privilege of good quality basic education as well as skills-based AIDS education must be extended equally to boys and girls.
The UNAIDS Inter-agency Task Team on HIV/AIDS and Education has drafted a strategy framework to guide an expanded response to HIV/AIDS through the education sector.
Combatting HIV/AIDS through education: Strategies of Brazil, Namibia, Gambia and UN partners
A panel discussion at the UN Special Session on Children, May 2002
Moderator: Riz Khan, CNN International
Panelists: Paolo Roberto Teixeira, National Coordinator for Sexually Transmissible Diseases and AIDS, Ministry of Health, Brazil
Stanley Simataa, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Education, Namibia
Anne Therese Ndong-Jatta, Secretary of State for Education, Gambia
Donald Bundy, Lead Specialist, School Health and Nutrition,World Bank
The link between AIDS and education has only gained attention recently, yet, the AIDS pandemic is proving to be a "destructive element for education systems," stated Mr Donald Bundy of the Human Development Network at the World Bank (representing the UNAIDS Inter-agency Task Team on Education). The international community has pledged its commitment to basic education for every boy and girl by 2015, through the Education for All initiative (Dakar Framework for Action, 2000), but, "AIDS is making that not merely difficult, but perhaps impossible." On the other hand, education provides us an opportunity to do something about AIDS, Mr Bundy added. Most children of school-age are not infected with HIV, and education has a role in ensuring most schoolchildren remain uninfected.
As more governments adopt a multi-sectoral approach to HIV/AIDS control, some are taking a stance on the issue of AIDS in education. Riz Khan invited representatives from Brazil, Gambia and Namibia shared their strategies and lessons to date.
Ms Ndong-Jatta of the Gambia endorsed a formal, structured approach where accurate information is provided to young people in a comprehensive program. While this is offered to Gambian pupils from Grade 6 of primary school, inhibition on the part of teachers and students led the government to supplement the formal programme with more interactive peer health education. Ms Ndong-Jatta emphasised peer education as the most important component of Gambia's strategy.
Dr Teixeira from Brazil emphasized the importance of "a clear policy and consistent strategy" regarding HIV/AIDS, with leadership at the highest level. Part of Brazil's policy has been the provision of anti-retroviral treatment for all HIV-positive Brazilians, free of charge. Dr Teixeira explained that the possibility of treatment brought back a sense of hope and has helped reduce the stigma and fear associated with HIV and AIDS. Such stigma keeps HIV-positive young people out of school in many countries. Dr Teixeira recommended treatment of HIV-positive teachers and pupils as an important strategy in support of the education system. Regarding prevention, Dr Teixeira said that Brazil promotes unambiguous messages about prevention in the context of healthy and positive sexual development.
Mr Simataa of Namibia agreed that schools are a valuable weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but they do not work in isolation. They exist in the context of a larger community, which must be open enough to encourage children to learn about HIV/AIDS. Schools must gain the support of religious and cultural institutions in their community. Also, schools do not reach the children who are often most at risk for HIV, including street children, young sex workers and orphans. The education sector needs the support of non-governmental organizations to reach such children.
One audience member asked how countries can maintain a high quality of education despite the impact of HIV/AIDS on education systems. One tragic consequence has been increasing absenteeism and deaths of teachers. Namibia currently allows teachers to appoint relief teachers, but, this draws on additional resources. The World Bank estimated that the additional cost of substitute teachers and minimum subsidies for orphans to continue schooling would be half a billion dollars a year, in addition to current level of investment.
The group recognised that education systems are faced with two complex but inter-linked challenges: to simultaneously prevent HIV/AIDS and deal with its devastating impact on education systems. The rich discussion culminated in support for a multi-pronged response, which included the following:
- Keep the momentum to achieve Education for All. Make sure schools and teachers are there; that all boys and girls go to school. In particular, ensure that access includes those groups increasingly marginalized, including children orphaned and affected by HIV/AIDS;
- Use the education system to deliver preventive HIV/AIDS education, in formal and informal ways that are responsive and effective; and
- Work with the broader community (religious leaders, NGOs, informal groups) to help raise children with protective values from an early age.
Many complex challenges remain, including the issue of teacher-to-pupil transmission. However, Mr Bundy closed the discussion on a hopeful note: that education can play a critical role in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "If we can have effective education systems, there is a chance that today's uninfected children will grow up into uninfected adults."
"Education and HIV/AIDS: A Window of Hope," World Bank, 2002.
‘Child-friendly’ Community Schools approach for Promoting Health, Psychosocial Development, and Resilience in Children and Youth Affected by AIDS