Education and HIV: where we’ve come from and where we need to go

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Education and HIV: where we’ve come from and where we need to go

01 April 2014

A new UNESCO publication explores the evolution of HIV education and how it can be made more relevant to young people.

Charting the course of education and HIV examines what has been learned in the AIDS education journey, its opportunities and challenges. It then proposes a way forward in an area that is seen to be critical to the success of the overall AIDS response.

According to UNESCO Global Coordinator for HIV and AIDS Chris Castle, “HIV education can help learners to not only develop and maintain safer behaviours, but also reduce stigma and discrimination towards people affected by, and living with, HIV.”

Exploring the mechanisms and machinations of culture, values, beliefs and relationships of power has become more prominent and acknowledging that education and health are inextricably linked is now seen as vital. For example, HIV education can help to tackle some of the structural drivers of the epidemic, such as harmful gender norms, which can increase the vulnerability of women and girls.

According to the book, one of the major lessons learned in AIDS education has been the need to broaden the scope of HIV education and ensuring a more open and holistic approach to it. In that respect, largely gone are the early tendencies to teach HIV as a science topic concerned only with the biology of transmission, along with the scare tactics often used to discourage young people from becoming sexually active.

Instead, skills-based approaches have emerged that stress communication and coping strategies. Using interactive, student-centred methods of teaching, rather than heavily didactic ones, has been proven to be more successful.

HIV education can help learners to not only develop and maintain safer behaviours, but also reduce stigma and discrimination towards people affected by, and living with, HIV.

UNESCO Global Coordinator for HIV and AIDS Chris Castle

Nowadays, many countries have adopted the newer paradigm. A survey carried out across 13 countries in the Caribbean in 2008 found that all of them provide skills-based health education. Equally, all 21 nations in east and southern Africa have a policy or strategy to promote life skills-based HIV education.

However, the book shows that there is still a long way to go on the ground. Many young people across the world still do not possess even basic knowledge about the virus. HIV education often remains marginalized. Numerous curricula are found to be deficient, with little reference to key aspects of sex and sexuality and a lack of information about where to access relevant services. Often, teachers do not feel confident about delving into topics they may find embarrassing and do not allow their students the space to explore these issues in a frank and open way.

Charting the course of education and HIV recognizes the need to reframe HIV education to respond to such deficits and rethink teacher training and support and integrate skills-based activities with school health programmes. HIV education will also have to be adaptive to the changes in the epidemic and encompass not only HIV prevention but treatment, care, support, and stigma and discrimination. There should also be redoubled efforts to meet the growing demands from young people, and increasingly their parents, for comprehensive sexuality education, joining with ministries, school heads and other teachers to develop a common agenda to help young people make informed choices about how to live healthy and fulfilled lives.