The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a global crisis and a leading development obstacle for many nations. There is no known cure for HIV and the cost and availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) make treatment very expensive. The disease has affected millions of individuals and devastated several national economies and societies. Education has become an important component in efforts to stem the spread of this disease. This entry provides an overview of the epidemic and examines educational initiatives and their impact.
HIV was first identified in 1981, but epidemiologists have tracked blood samples containing the HIV back to the 1950s. Several scholars designate the Great Lakes region of East Africa as the HIV epicenter, though others have argued that the epicenter also includes portions of Central Africa. An accurate number of people infected with and who have died from the disease is difficult to measure. Many individuals were pronounced dead as a result of one of several opportunistic infections, or by other names such as “slim” disease in Uganda.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the rate of disease reached epidemic levels in several global regions and, except in a few countries, continues to escalate. The 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are between 30.6 and 36.1 million people infected with HIV around the world. The disease has created millions of AIDS orphans. With no respect to race, gender, or social class, the disease has wreaked havoc in many nations. High-risk population groups include youth, young adults, and migrant workers, who make up significant portions of the labor supply’s most productive members.
Although HIV is a worldwide pandemic, there are vast disparities among geographic regions in the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV). Sub-Saharan Africa and the South and Southeast Asian regions account for 83 percent of the world’s total infection rates. Sub-Saharan Africa, with about 11 percent of the total world population, accounts for 76 percent of the total female infections and roughly 87 percent of all infected children. Oceania, with .5 percent of the world’s population, represents roughly .2 percent of infection and deaths from HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa is thus overrepresented in terms of adults, children, and women infected with HIV and in the total number of deaths from AIDS. The high rates of infection and the resulting fear have led many to blame and discriminate against those who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Because of its transmission and effects on the body, HIV and AIDS have predominantly been labeled a health-only issue. But this approach to the disease is too narrow. As early as 1987, WHO proposed a multisectoral approach to addressing HIV/AIDS. The multispectral response has been promoted by UNAIDS and other major multi and bilateral development agencies and has been adapted from successful multisectoral models such as those of Uganda, Senegal, and the United States. Governments and the international community have stressed inclusion, participation, and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and the private sector to increase the effectiveness, outreach, and reduce duplicate efforts by multiple actors in the HIV response. This multisectoral strategy brings together community members, health care providers, religious leaders, government agencies, the business community, and school personnel and administrators in a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS under one umbrella plan directed by the government and a coordinating council of stakeholders. Government commitment, multisectoral collaboration between government sectors, political stability, and a democratic society are all precursors for an effective HIV/AIDS education campaign. Well-formulated and context-relevant national HIV/AIDS strategic frameworks and policy statements are essential documents that provide coordination underpinnings to a successful multisectoral response.
The education sector is an essential component of the multisectoral approach in countries that have reduced their HIV-seroprevalence rates. Education attainment is a potential predictor to poverty reduction and the overall health within a country. Further, some studies show a negative relationship between education and seroprevalence rates. Education is considered an essential means to influence knowledge and create behavior changes in youth. Formal education interventions include strategies based on abstinence, being faithful within a relationship, and condom use (i.e., the ABCs of HIV prevention); inclusion of HIV/AIDS in the curriculum; and school-supported programs such as peer-education groups, school clubs, dramatizations, and in-service training for teachers and administrators.
While schools are positioned as ideal settings for successful behavioral communication change (BCC), schools are not always the best avenue for disseminating life skills. Depending on the curricular requirements, administrative support, and teacher knowledge, schools can be limited in what is offered by means of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and stigma. If teachers lack sufficient training regarding the disease, it is doubtful that they will be willing or able to share the necessary life-saving skills for successful HIV/AIDS-prevention education. Therefore, other, nonformal education avenues must also be taken to achieve successful HIV/AIDS-education dissemination to the target student population. Parents, family and community members, peer groups, the mass media, voluntary counseling and testing services, literacy programs, and cultural performances (such as dramas that focus on the disease) are successful, nonformal, education media through which HIV/AIDS-prevention messages can occur.
AIDS stigma is a leading impediment to AIDS education efforts, which in turn creates a major obstacle to effective prevention, treatment, and care of the disease. AIDS stigma is a social construct that can take on many different forms, causing victims to be rejected, isolated, blamed, or ashamed. Education efforts can help curb the negative and vicious cycle that inevitably results from AIDS stigma and help prevent children from dropping out of school, unnecessary marginalization, and increased suffering. In an effort to stem stigma and increase accurate knowledge about prevention and transmission, it is necessary that government leaders, school administrators, and teachers address AIDS stigma in schools.
Research On Education’s Impact
Education and HIV/AIDS exist in a cyclical relationship, influencing and being influenced by the other. Education impacts an individual’s knowledge, behavior, and attitudes toward the disease. Recent studies have shown an education effect on HIV infection rates, with better educated individuals having lower infection rates, more knowledge about HIV and AIDS, and greater acceptance of PLHIV. Inversely, HIV infection negatively impacts both the teaching workforce and student attendance. HIV infection and AIDS among teachers and administrators increases absenteeism from illness, reduces productivity, and eventually depletes the teaching workforce and knowledge base in several countries faster than it can be replaced. HIV also impacts student learning, as students with infected family members are required to drop out of school to care for ill family members, take employment to compensate for lost income from ill caregivers, or care for younger siblings. In the face of escalating adversity, education is perhaps the most essential means for prevention of HIV and AIDS and ultimately overcoming the global pandemic.
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