AIDS in School: Teacher-Student Sex Spreads HIV in Central African Republic
August 7, 2001
Five girls at Miskine High School in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), died last year from complications from AIDS. The high school has 4,000 students and a teacher shortage. AIDS is the leading cause of death among teachers in CAR, according to UNICEF.
Although teachers say it is impossible to know from whom the pupils contracted the virus, they suspect that staff members spread the disease. "Girls often come to school without eating and without proper clothing," said Fracnoise Nboma, head of the English department. "They see their teachers as someone to help them. Many parents want their daughters to marry teachers, so they encourage their children to have relationships with them, and the staff don't refuse."
The average age that girls begin sexual activity is 15, according to a UNICEF official in Bangui, "and their first partner is often their teacher." In some villages, HIV infection is cited as the main reason female students fail to finish their education. Male students don't encounter the same problem because they bribe teachers with beer and cigarettes rather than sex. More than 13 percent of the CAR population between ages 17 and 30 are thought to be HIV-positive, with more than 70 percent of soldiers believed to have the virus.
Most experts believe that the epidemic in CAR is due to its proximity to the war in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and the international sex trade. "Central Africa is the crossroads for commerce . . . for river traffic as well as trucker traffic, so along the main roads we're finding a much greater rate of HIV infection," says Timothy Betoni, director of US-based Populations Services International. Mutinies by the CAR military in 1996 and 1997 also brought international peacekeeping groups and an explosion of prostitution.
With half of the country's teaching posts now empty, only 60 percent of CAR's children are receiving an education. Classes are in excess of 150 pupils. "AIDS is having a huge impact on our education system and our entire society," said Elois Anguimate, the minister of education. "Nobody can really imagine what the future holds for us."
San Francisco Chronicle
08.06.01; Lucy Jones
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.