Education departments worldwide are ill-prepared to deal with teachers and children who are infected with HIV.
This is according to a UNAIDS study of 71 education ministries worldwide, which was released in Johannesburg yesterday (19 July 2006) by the agency and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Less than a quarter of the 20 countries most affected by HIV offered counselling to infected students or trained teachers to deal with these students.
All 20 most affected countries (where over 6% of the population has HIV) were in Africa, including the entire southern Africa region.
Only one country of all 71 surveyed had a comprehensive programme for teachers that included workplace HIV policies, counselling and HIV testing and access to treatment.
‘Care and support [for people with HIV] has lagged behind awareness and prevention activity,’ notes the report.
‘Teacher training and the provision of counselling services are prerequisites for an effective response.’
In addition, schools were not doing enough to help AIDS orphans. Less than a third of the countries had programmes for them, and most schools focused simply on waiving school fees.
But, notes the report, the most important short- to medium-term goal was to keep orphans and vulnerable children in school.
‘In this way, some measure of social protection and monitoring can be provided, together with access to nutrition, the cognitive skills required for informed decision-making and sufficient education for employment,’ stresses the report.
Many teachers were still uncomfortable to discuss sexual health and HIV/AIDS, and needed support. Volunteers and community organisations could be brought in to help, notes the report.
The report also decried the lack of proper data from schools about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the education sector, saying that this undermined the ability of the sector to plan or combat the epidemic.
The ministries of education are ‘ill-prepared to deal with the potential impact of HIV and AIDS on teachers, lacking adequate data on teacher morbidity and mortality and absenteeism’.
Only four of the 20 high-prevalence countries were monitoring the effects of HIV/AIDS on human resources, while only five had plans to train more teachers to address teacher deaths.
Most ministries did not know how many students were living with HIV or had died of AIDS.
But the education sector is doing a lot better to address HIV prevention.
School life skills programmes were to be found in 84% of all countries, and HIV/AIDS featured in school curricula in 80% of all countries.
Some 90% of high prevalence countries have HIV prevention programmes for their employees.
‘The existence of these programmes does not, however, mean that the quality and coverage of these are satisfactory,’ notes the report.
In a first for South Africa, research for the global report was conducted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division. ‘ Health-e News Service.