United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
In turning the tide against HIV/AIDS, education is key

WASHINGTON - With more than 40 million people worldwide now estimated to be infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, UN and World Bank officials warned today that education plans to get 115 million boys and girls into primary school by 2015 needed to be intensified if the world was to have any hope of blunting the spread of the epidemic.

Meeting in Washington, members of the UNAIDS Interagency Task Team on Education released a new action plan-HIV/AIDS and Education: A Strategic Approach-which will help countries fight the spread of HIV infection by stepping up their national efforts to achieve the Education For All (EFA) goal of offering a quality primary school education to all children by 2015. The Inter Agency Task Team (IATT) said that with HIV/AIDS killing teachers faster than they could be trained, making orphans of students, and threatening to derail efforts by highly-infected countries to achieve EFA, a new global education strategy was needed to curb further infections. Research shows that a good basic education ranks among the most effective, and cost-effective means of preventing HIV.

"Without education, AIDS will continue its rampant spread. With AIDS out of control, education will be out of reach," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). "HIV/AIDS and Education is for policy makers in both education and AIDS, but its message speaks to everyone touched by the epidemic: teachers, education administrators, school children, young people out of school, adult learners, and community leaders living in a world with AIDS.

" Established in January 1996, UNAIDS brings together eight United Nations system organizations to lead, strengthen and support an expanded response to the epidemic. Its Cosponsors are: UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNDCP, ILO, UNESCO, WHO, World Bank. In addition to the UNAIDS Cosponsors, the IATT counts among its members USAID, DfID, Education International and other NGOs. The IATT is chaired by UNESCO.

From strategy to action

HIV/AIDS affected countries have worked with the UNAIDS partners to develop a plan of action to operationalize the IATT strategy in Africa. The plan calls for a multi-partner effort from the countries, the UN system, bilateral donors, NGOs and the private sector at three levels:

  • Advocacy at the ministerial level to promote political will
  • Sharing of experience among countries and capacity building through facilitated seminars to promote understanding of feasible actions
  • Support at the country level for the education sector to develop and implement an effective response.

    The first step towards putting the new strategy into action will be a regional summit in Mombassa, Kenya, next month, co-hosted by the Kenyan government and the UNAIDS IATT partnership, which will bring together Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zambia and Tanzania, to share their education experiences with HIV/AIDS. Their country teams in education and health will work with agencies that support orphans and vulnerable children, civil society, the teacher unions, and national HIV/AIDS commissions to accelerate the education response to the epidemic. Other countries in Africa are already planning similar initiatives with the IATT to eventually cover all of Africa.

    The new push for an 'education vaccine' is long overdue, given the power of education to fight HIV/AIDS. No country can afford not to act. Those worst-affected need to turn back the spread of the epidemic and protect future generations-Uganda and Thailand have shown this to be possible," says Don Bundy, lead author of the recent report 'Education and HIV/AIDS: A Window of Hope' and a World Bank specialist on school health. "Low-prevalence countries need to recognize the speed with which complacency can lead to crisis and, equally, the tremendous opportunity for saving of lives and financial resources through prevention. For all countries, two mutually reinforcing objectives are paramount: prevention of HIV and protection and support for the education system.

    The new strategy report portrays a bleak picture of the epidemic's impact on education systems. Half of the world's 15,000 new infections every day occur among 15- to 24-year-olds. The epidemic's ravages are well under way in Africa's worst-affected countries, which face high teacher prevalence rates (30 percent in Malawi), a burgeoning of the orphan and out-of-school population and a widening gender gap in education. Already more vulnerable than boys to HIV infection, girls are also more vulnerable to dropping out of school, being more often retained at home to care for sick relatives or assume other domestic duties.

    The full scope of the epidemic's impact on education can be seen in the context of the formidable challenges already confronting the sector. More than 113 million children, aged 6 to 12, are out of school in developing countries, two-thirds of them girls. Of those who enter school, one out of four drops out before attaining literacy. Even without reflecting the epidemic's impact, at least 55 of the poorest countries seem unlikely to achieve universal primary enrollment by 2015; 28 of these countries are also among the 45 worst affected by HIV/AIDS.

    "Education is an effective, proven weapon against HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is very effective in attacking the very fabric of the education system. Thus, working to preserve the core functions of education and educating to prevent spread of the disease are complementary and inseparable," said Alexandra Draxler, education specialist and UNESCO Focal Point for HIV/AIDS. "This interagency strategy represents a unique collaboration among a broad coalition of actors.

    " With AIDS, several of the worst-hit countries (such as South Africa and Botswana) are seeing a reversal of hard-won educational gains, while countries already struggling to achieve EFA goals are being further set back.

    Practical steps in new strategy

    HIV/AIDS and Education: A Strategic Approach proposes a number of practical steps to mobilize the life-sustaining force of education to battle HIV/AIDS. For example:

  • teachers need to be properly prepared to teach about sex, relationships and health;
  • education for HIV/AIDS prevention should begin as early as possible, and be continued throughout childhood and adolescence;
  • education and health policy makers, teachers, health workers, parents, students, leaders of community groups, faith-based organizations and NGOs need to work together to: (a) allow schools to implement good quality school health programs; (b) allow schools and other organizations to carry out HIV/AIDS prevention activities in schools;
  • non-formal education and mass media work involving and targeting young people, can also broaden the reach of education for HIV/AIDS prevention.

    The purpose of these activities is to help education sectors in Africa to implement effective response strategies to HIV/AIDS as part of their national education plans, and to mobilize resources, including external resources. The overall goal is to help the education sectors of countries in Africa take effective action to prevent and alleviate the impact of HIV/AIDS so that they can achieve universal primary education by 2015 and reduce the prevalence of infection, and in this way contribute broadly to achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals.

    UNAIDS: Dominique De Santis
    Tel: 41 22 791 4509
    E-mail: desantisd@unaids.org

    World Bank: Phil Hay
    Tel: (202) 473-1796
    E-mail: Phay@worldbank.org

    Stevan Jackson
    Tel: (202) 458-5054
    E-mail: Sjackson@worldbank.org

    UNESCO: Sue Williams
    e-mail: S.williams@unesco.org

    Author(s) Joint World Bank, UNESCO, UNAIDS Press release 2002
    Source Joint World Bank, UNESCO, UNAIDS Press release 2002
    Website 1 (URL) Web: Full strategy
    Website 2 (URL) Web: UNAIDS
    Website 3 (URL) Web: Bank's work in the area of education
    Website 4 (URL) Bank's work in the area of HIV/AIDS
    Publication Date 17 Oct 2002
    UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 7195