AIDS decimates African teachers

Once thought to be a primary resource for preventing HIV infection, the education systems of Africa's sub-Saharan countries are being devastated by the AIDS pandemic, according to reports announced at a global education conference held recently in Thailand.

In Botswana, for example, 35¾40% of secondary school teachers are infected with HIV, conference delegates learned. And in 1999, 100 000 South African children lost their teachers to AIDS. "In the next 10 years," said Ms Monique Foulihoux, AIDS specialist with the nongovernmental organization Education International, "if nothing is done, teachers will completely disappear in Africa."

The statistics do not surprise the experts. "Teachers are in the age-group where HIV prevalence is highest in the general population," says Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander of UNAIDS. "Teachers are [also] more concentrated in urban areas where HIV prevalence is higher."

The Kenya Institute of Education and UNICEF have joined forces to train as many as 7000 teachers in HIV/AIDS education. While the primary goal of the intervention may be to pass knowledge on to schoolchildren, it is hoped that the training will improve prevention practices for teachers as well. "We should assume," Schwartlander says, "that teachers have better access to knowledge and are better educated on average. Prevalence rates should decrease faster in this group [than in the general population] once interventions are introduced."

In the meantime, the education system continues to suffer. UNICEF's Progress of Nations 2000 report states that efforts to implement school-based programmes to educate children about HIV and AIDS are being thwarted as the little funding that is available is being funnelled away from prevention and into other AIDS services.

Andrea Clark, Venice, California, USA

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland