- NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) - Africa's children are facing an educational crisis as teachers
across the continent succumb to AIDS, experts report.
- ``AIDS constitutes one of the biggest crises and the
biggest threats to the global education agenda that we have known,'' said
Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme
on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). He spoke at this week's World Education Forum, held
in Dakar, Senegal.
- AIDS-related reductions in teaching staff are decimating
educational systems in many African nations. The statistics are grim:
- -- nearly 7 out of every 10 deaths among teachers in
Cote D'Ivoire are now attributed to AIDS. Between 1996-1998, experts estimate
that 5 teachers fell victim to AIDS every week in that West African nation.
- -- deaths due to AIDS now equals retirement as the leading
cause of reductions in teaching staff in schools in the Central African
- -- according to a UNAIDS statement, 1,300 teachers died
of AIDS in Zambia during the first ten months of 1998 alone, ``more than
twice the number of teacher deaths in all of 1997 and equaling about two
thirds of all teachers trained annually.''
- And Piot warned that ``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.''
- Ironically, AIDS' impact on education may lead to higher
HIV infection rates, since schools are ideal forums for teaching children
and teenagers about the importance of safe sex and other anti-HIV messages.
``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,'' Piot explained.
Schools can also raise literacy rates, especially among young women, who
remain at especially high risk for HIV.
- The Forum, sponsored by a consortium of international
organizations, governments, and agencies, seeks to develop strategies to
meet the educational needs of the world's children in the coming century.
AIDS remains a major roadblock to fulfilling this challenge, Piot said.
``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.''
- According to UNAIDS, about 34 million people worldwide
are living with either HIV or AIDS, with 24 million in Africa alone. And
15,000 new HIV infections occur daily -- more than ten each minute.
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