An AIDS-free generation in less than a generation
UNESCO proposes a new UNAIDS initiative in Livingstone, ZambiaLivingstone – UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura yesterday proposed a new HIV prevention education initiative at the 23rd meeting of the Committee of the Cosponsoring Organizations (CCO) of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS currently chaired by UNESCO.
This intiative, entitled “An Aids-Free Generation in less than a Generation”, was unanimously approved by the nine UN agencies that co-sponsor UNAIDS*.
Meeting for the first time in Africa, at Livingstone (Zambia), the UNAIDS cosponsors also held a meeting with 17 education, health and finance ministers from six southern African nations – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – on the theme “Reinforcing Action against HIV/AIDS”.
“The meeting was designed to stimulate three kinds of interaction,” Mr Matsuura explained. “Interaction among the heads of UN agencies, interaction between the heads of these agencies and the invited ministers, and interaction among the ministers, so that health, education and finance can engage in a productive dialogue. Ultimately, our aim is to find better ways of working together.”
About 90 people participated in this high level meeting, the leitmotif of which was “common vision, “joint action”. The President of Zambia, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, opened the meeting, stressing the gravity of the situation, especially in southern Africa, where “70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line”. “More than 40 percent of teachers are HIV positive in Zambia,” he said, and added that there were also some one million AIDS orphans in his country.
On the issue of prevention education, the Director-General of UNESCO stressed that “there is no way of stopping the epidemic if gender inequalities persist, if the greater part of the young remains uneducated, if poverty endures and if discrimination against the infected and affected is not banished. Education is one place where these problems manifest themselves, but it is also a place where we can attack them.”
The case of Cameroon is revealing in this regard. According to a 1999 study carried out by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)**, only nine percent of boys who never attended school knew that a person who appears to be in good health may nevertheless carry the HIV virus. Among boys with some education, this rises to 48 percent and to 68 percent among boys still in school. For girls the percentages are 17, 55 and 74 respectively.
According to the IIEP, “children are at risk on an unparalleled scale. Millions are already infected – in some countries more than a third of 15–year olds will die of AIDS-related illnesses in coming years. Millions more are becoming orphans of one or both parents – more than 30 million in less than 10 years. Many youth will grow up deprived, desocialized and disconnected.”
Entitled “An Aids-free Generation in less than a Generation”, the new global initiative to expand prevention education against HIV/AIDS should complement the ongoing initiatives under UNAIDS, particularly the “3 by 5” initiative, launched in 2003 by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS to increase access to antiretroviral treatment to three million people in developing countries by the end of 2005.
This new joint project, which comes within the framework of the Millenium Goals*** and UNGASS****, “will consist of a concerted effort to help countries to develop an urgent, scaled-up response to prevention education,” Mr Matsuura said. “This will include the development of curricula, teacher-training modules, workplace policies for educational institutions, improved financing mechanisms, renewed non-formal educational opportunities, safe schools and surroundings, broader community contact with schools and enhanced national capacity.” A “tool kit”, adaptable to the needs of different countries, cultures and social milieux, will be designed and tested in a few of the countries worst affected by HIV/AIDS, mainly sub-Saharan Africa.
The high-level meeting on southern Africa, the region most affected by the AIDS pandemic, provided an opportunity for the heads of agencies to visit, between March 3 and 5, several institutions working on HIV/AIDS, including the SEPO Centre, which offers counselling, tests and training, the Linda Community School, Maramba Clinic, Saint Francis Home-based Care and Livingstone Hospital.
Cristina Owen-Jones, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador dedicated to the struggle against AIDS through education, also attended the meeting. After a visit to South Africa, she travelled to Zambia to experience first hand the realities of AIDS in the field. “I am in training,” she said, adding that “what has hit me most among people I met in the clinics of Livingstone who are infected or ill, is that they haven’t lost hope. They are accepted, supported and accompanied.” From Zambia, Ms Owen-Jones will travel to Mozambique.
*Five heads of UN agencies attended the meeting: Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General UNESCO, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director UNICEF, James Morris, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP), Malloch Brown, Administrator UNDP, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The UN Population Fund (UNFP) was represented by Kunio Waki, Deputy Executive Director; International Labour Organization by Assane Diop, Executive Director, Sector for Social Protection; the World Health Organization (WHO) by Joy Phumaphi, Assistant Director-General, Family and Community Health; and the World Bank by Jean-Louis Sarbib, Senior Vice-President, Human Development Network.
****The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) was held in July 2001. It adopted a Declaration of Commitment, which emphasizes the role of prevention education. The objectives include: “By 2005 to reduce HIV prevalence rates among young men and women aged 15-24 in the most affected countries by 25 percent.”