HIV and AIDS education saves lives

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11 Janvier 2006

Many UN agencies and WAGGGS are using similar approaches, including theatre, soap-opera, and writing competitions, to get their message about HIV and AIDS across to young people.

The importance of relevant HIV and AIDS prevention education for young people has been recognised globally as key in the fight against AIDS. 

In WAGGGS’ “let’s talk about adolescent health” survey, carried out in 2005, over 30 per cent of the 6000 girls and young women who responded said that HIV and AIDS was the most important areas for WAGGGS to concentrate on. 

WAGGGS’ AIDS Badge Curriculum, produced in conjunction with ICASO and UNAIDS in 1999 was one of the first AIDS prevention manuals to be focused at young people and to educate young people in a culturally sensitive way as well as having a fun approach.

Zambia is a country that is heavily hit by the HIV epidemic; nearly one out of six adults (aged 15 to 49) are infected according to UNAIDS. However, the latest DFID study praises Zambia for its increased efforts to stem the epidemic by implementing a comprehensive national response for HIV and AIDS education.

Zambia is not alone is its drive to increase education. Countries like Brazil, Namibia, Senegal and Thailand have all shown the political will and commitment to bring HIV and AIDS to the fore of the education system.

Yet education’s potential to halt the spread of the HIV epidemic is being under-utilized in many countries throughout the world. In fact, very few countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa have coherent HIV and AIDS plans within the education sector that are actually being implemented. UNESCO reports that most countries are failing their youth by not providing comprehensive education on HIV prevention as well as teaching about care, treatment and support for those living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS.

Lesley Bulman-Lever, WAGGGS Chief Executive and founder member of Sofia says: “Learning about HIV and AIDS prevention is a vital part of young people’s education. It should not just be a single topic in biology or science classes, but be part of the social education of all young people. We believe that the non-formal education provided by Girl Guiding/Girl Scouting is an excellent way of getting the right messages across – but this needs to be available to ALL young people, not only those in Guiding and Scouting.”

Overcoming taboos

In WAGGGS’ adolescent health survey, girls also said that talking about sex with parents, teachers, friends and learning more about sex, and their rights and responsibilities was very important to them. Yet taboos and fears of talking about sex impede HIV and AIDS education, experts say. There is pressure from some quarters to focus the prevention message on abstinence. But does this approach work? Not according to Lesley Bulman-Lever:

“How can young people talk about HIV and AIDS and not talk about sex? Young people have many questions and they need to ask these questions because the answers might save their lives. Abstinence is an important part of HIV and AIDS prevention but so is talking about sex, as well as understanding their bodies, all their choices and their rights and responsibilities.”