The HIV/AIDS pandemic has devastated the education sector in many countries, robbing schools of critical human and economic resources - with Eastern/Southern Africa the worst-affected region of all. The pandemic is making progress towards universal, high-quality primary education infinitely more difficult.
In many countries hit by HIV/AIDS, both the supply and the quality of schooling have plummeted as teachers have fallen ill, died or been required to care for their families. In the late 1990s, for example, more than 100 schools were forced to close in the Central African Republic because of AIDS-related deaths (1). Rural schools often lose staff because teachers affected by HIV flock to urban areas so that they or their family members can be closer to hospitals and other health-care services. In Malawi the pupil-teacher ratio in some schools has swelled to 96 to 1 as a result of AIDS-related illness (2).
The problem lies not only with the supply of schools but also with children's demand for them. Globally the number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS shot up from 11.5 million in 2001 to 15 million in 2003. Some 12.3 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa (3).
In almost all countries for which data are available, children who have lost both parents are less likely to be in school. In Comoros, for example, 35 per cent of children with no parents attended school compared with 60 per cent of children living with at least one parent. In Mozambique the respective percentages were 32 and 68; in Ethiopia 26 and 43 (4).
Even those orphans who do attend school are likely to experience more difficulty. Studies in Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe found that children aged 6-10 who have lost both parents are only half as likely to be at their proper educational level as children of the same age whose both parents are alive; orphans aged 11-14 are two thirds as likely (5).