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UNESCO's strategy for HIV/AIDS preventive education  
 

With respect to HIV/AIDS, there are two striking differences between the industrialized countries and the developing world. One is in the access to treatment – bluntly put: the disease is in the south and the treatment is in the north. The other fact,even more striking, is the difference in the rates of infection. In many countries in the north the proportion infected has remained nearly level for the past decade – in many countries in the south, and in some countries under great social stress such as parts of the former Soviet Union, the epidemic is snowballing.
The AIDS epidemic aggravates discrepancies between developing and industrialized countries and exacerbates inequalities within them. Low infection rates are above all due to successful preventive education. Hence, while every effort must be made to develop the medical means for prevention and care, the immediate and overriding priority must be given to preventive education for behaviour change to reduce infection rates.

A vaccine is desperately needed and treatments that can make it possible for those infected to live longer and with fewer ailments must be made available. UNESCO will strongly support the initiatives and efforts to provide them. UNESCO itself will invest most of its resources in preventive education broadly defined, where UNESCO, due to its mandate, experience and expertise can make the greatest difference.
As long as no vaccine exists and treatments are unaffordable, education is the most effective strategy. So far prevention is not only the most economical response – it is the most patent and potent response, i.e. changing behaviour by providing knowledge, fostering attitudes and conferring skills through culturally sensitive and effective communication. An approach based on human rights is fundamental for both providing preventive education and treatment as well as in combating stigma and improving living conditions of the infected and affected.
UNESCO’s commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS has since 1987 been confirmed on repeated occasions. UNESCO’s strategy on HIV/AIDS will take as its point of departure: collaboration among UN agencies and the specific contributions that UNESCO can make. Fighting HIV/AIDS through preventive education is no single-point programme. UNESCO’s priority in preventive education is directed towards five core tasks:
1. advocacy at all levels;
2. customizing the message;
3. changing risk behaviour;
4. caring for the infected and affected;
5. coping with the institutional impact of HIV/AIDS.

Different settings require a different balance and focus between these five elements. This agenda is also the crux of UNESCO’s mission with its interdisciplinary approach. But curbing the infection rate is not enough – preventive education must address caring for the infected and affected. Moreover, if the epidemic is not curtailed, the very institutions that are to foster development will wither – poverty as well as misery will increase. Likewise a strategy of preventive education must also tacklehow the key institutions for development can be protected to perform their core functions. Through a holistic approach based on its interdisciplinary experience, UNESCO can play a lead role in these areas.


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