Commemorated every year on December 1, World Aids Day is an opportunity to highlight worldwide efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, a disease that has already killed 35 million people.
A destructive disease, HIV/AIDS is not only a life-threatening condition, but it also affects economic and human development, while exacerbating the cycle of poverty.
Despite no cure or vaccine being available, education has proven to be among the most cost-effective ways to prevent the spread of this disease. In fact, education can save lives, by providing individuals with the knowledge to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
Education: A cost-effective way to prevent HIV/AIDS
Educating children, and providing them with the knowledge and skills which can influence good choices to be made later in life, will protect them as they reach their most vulnerable years. Similarly, educating young people about how this disease is transmitted, prevention practices as well as encouraging sporadic testing, can yield the maximum return on education investments.
This is particularly true for adolescent girls and young women, who continue to be the most vulnerable and highest risk groups.
Protecting the most vulnerable group with education
Education is an effective tool to reduce the social and economic vulnerabilities that often make girls and women more prone to become infected with HIV/AIDS. Education promotes gender equality and women empowerment; what’s more, it has added benefits such as delaying marriage for young girls and providing an avenue for family planning. These benefits will help to educate and provide better opportunities for young girls and have positive ripple effects within a community.
Education raises awareness. Educated women are more likely to prevent the spread of the disease to their children, as they understand the importance of testing during pregnancy and are mindful of the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission via breastfeeding.
In addition to helping with HIV prevention, education increases the tolerance and empathy of individuals who have contracted the disease. By addressing fears and changing attitudes, education reduces discrimination and stigmas – the leading causes for children and adolescents to drop out of school.
GPE developing country partners’ efforts
Several GPE developing country partners recognize the inextricable link between education and health. Making efforts to ensure both students and educators have access to HIV/AIDS education, while providing adequate support to HIV-positive individuals are some of the ways GPE developing partners countries have implemented to combat the disease.
Below, are examples of initiatives these countries have undertaken:
- Eritrea is ensuring that HIV/AIDS education is integrated in the school curriculum. In addition, several education and communication activities are being organized to raise students’ awareness on prevention practices, as well as available care and treatment options.
- Cameroon is organizing annual consultations on HIV/AIDS at schools, universities, and vocational training centers. Training for teachers and support staff on prevention practices is now provided regularly.
- The Republic of Congo is developing a policy and strategy to fight HIV/AIDS within the education sector.
- Sao Tome and Principe is ensuring that all schools offer an integrated knowledge package on sexual/reproductive health and hygiene in general.
- Guyana through a School Health, Nutrition, and HIV/AIDS Unit, trains and sensitizes teachers and other educators on issues related to this disease while providing support to HIV-positive individuals.
Education saves lives
Educated children and youth have a better chance to protect themselves with access to all the facts about HIV/AIDS. On World AIDS Day, let’s commit to fight this disease by devoting more efforts and resources to ensure all children, adolescents, and youth receive a quality education; and that schools are equipped with the tools to provide HIV/AIDS education and life skills training.