Education Can Help Save Young People From AIDS, UNAIDS Chief Says
April 26, 2000
The Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Dr. Peter Piot, has called for a partnership with the education sector to save the lives of millions of young people threatened by AIDS and rescue Africa's efforts to achieve the goal of Education For All (EFA). He was speaking to participants at the opening of the World Education Forum, an international consortium set up to guide follow-up action to the 1990 World Conference on Education for All.
"AIDS constitutes one of the biggest crises and the biggest threats to the global education agenda that we have known," Dr. Piot said. "There is no other single factor in the world today that so systematically undermines the gains of decades of investment in human resources, education, health and the well being of nations. AIDS erodes the demand for education, as more and more children and families are affected. AIDS diminishes the supply of teachers, and with it, of course, the quality of education that is provided."
On average, AIDS killed 5 teachers each week between 1996 and 1998 in Côte d'Ivoire alone. Now, seven out of ten teachers die due to AIDS in the country. In the Central African Republic, as many teachers in service died of AIDS, as retired, between 1996 and 1998. In Zambia, 1,300 teachers died of AIDS in the first ten months of 1998 -- more than twice the number of teacher deaths in all of 1997 and equalling about two thirds of all teachers trained annually.
"AIDS has serious consequences beyond the education system itself. As families are affected by the disease, they may no longer be able to pay school fees and may withdraw their children from school in order to contribute to the household economy," Dr. Piot warned.
AIDS mostly affects people in their productive years -- young people and adults. Around half of all new HIV infections occur among those aged 15 to 24 years. Little or no access to education reduces the capacity of young adults to find work and earn enough to support themselves. Instead, this lack of access may constrain them to turn to risky professions to survive. Lack of education also reduces opportunities to learn about AIDS or about methods of protection from HIV infection.
Dr. Piot called for greater involvement of the education sector to help roll back the HIV/AIDS epidemic. "Schools are important settings in which to educate young people about relationships and responsibilities," he said. "Yet, some fear that educating young people about sex and sexual relationships will encourage promiscuity and experimentation. On the contrary, several major international scientific reviews demonstrate that well-structured sex education programmes lower the levels of risk taking and can delay the onset of sex among those who are not yet sexually active," he added.
It is estimated that nearly one billion adults throughout the world are illiterate. More men are literate than women, with literacy rates of 85% among men compared to 74% among women. Over a hundred million children, the majority of whom are from developing countries, lack access to primary education.
The Forum, sponsored by a number of international organizations, bilateral agencies and national ministries, is being held in Dakar on 26-28 April. The Forum aims to forge plans to meet the basic learning needs of all in the new century. A number of national leaders, including several heads of state, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and heads of agencies will attend.
An estimated 34 million people all over the world are living with either HIV or AIDS, 24 million in Africa alone. 15,000 new HIV infections occur daily -- more than ten each minute. In some populations over 15% of 15 to 18 year old girls are infected with HIV. Last year the world recorded a total of 2.6 million AIDS deaths, the highest in any single year so far. In Africa, 13.7 million people are estimated to have died of AIDS since the epidemic began, orphaning over 11 million children.
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