GLOBALLY, the HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a major public health, social, economic and development challenge. The rapid spread of the epidemic around the globe is highly challenging as it has adverse socio-economic impacts on individuals, families and communities.
In the past, AIDS was simply viewed as a public health problem. Considering the complex dynamics of and interrelations with poverty, gender inequality and HIV, the epidemic is now increasingly experienced as a social problem which has profound impacts on sustainable human development.
To tackle the mounting challenges of this epidemic, the global community has urged for consistent, effective and sustained response which respects and values the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. For this, concerted efforts are needed to involve most-at-risk groups, including people living with HIV/AIDS, in national policies and programmes.
In this context, Nepal has made commendable progress in formulating polices and strategies to reduce the burden of the epidemic through a comprehensive approach. The National HIV/AIDS policy and strategic plan (2006-2011) has focussed on young people and most-at-risk populations. There are increasing needs of targeted interventions for sex workers and their clients, injecting drug users, men having sex with men, migrants and their families.
Over the years, the education sector has been increasingly recognised as playing a key role in the prevention and in reducing both stigma and discrimination. To this end, UNESCO supports comprehensive and scaled-up education sector engagement as part of stronger national responses to AIDS, particularly with regard to HIV prevention among young people.
Global Initiative on Education and HIV/AIDS
Led by UNESCO with the collaboration of UNAIDS cosponsors and other key stakeholders, the Global Initiative on Education and HIV & AIDS seeks to promote, develop and support comprehensive education sector responses to HIV and AIDS. This is primarily a practical and cost-effective intervention to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS globally.
In Nepal, some important initiatives have been taken up by UNFPA and UNICEF towards this end by providing training to teachers and scaling up life skills education in a few districts. However, it is not enough as there are critical needs of updating the lower secondary and secondary education curricula to include comprehensive life skills and HIV/AIDS education.
The review of the education sector response to HIV/AIDS was first ever conducted by UNESCO in 2009. The report reveals some interesting findings and recommendations to further accelerate the response. Towards this end, the expansion and scaling up of life-skills based education is extremely important.
On the other side, the learning resources produced by UNESCO, UNICEF and UNFPA in collaboration with the Ministry of Education should be adequately distributed across the country. In addition, there is an emerging need to establish a national data base in HIV/AIDS education.
Very little efforts have been made to assess the vulnerability and impact of HIV-related education on students, youth and teachers. Similarly, capacity building of the Ministry of Education staff and school teachers is extremely important to mainstream HIV/AIDS in the education sector. Besides, school health and nutrition strategies should integrate HIV/AIDS as one of the key priorities for action in the communities.
The commitment of the Ministry of Education is needed to effectively mobilise resources in order to plan and implement HIV/AIDS awareness activities in schools to reduce the vulnerability of students and teachers to HIV. Much more needs to be done in the area of training needs assessment of teachers in the context of HIV/AIDS and develop practical strategies of training and mobilising them in HIV prevention.
The education of children affected by AIDS (CABA) is another social concern as they have limited access to education and health services. This will also threaten to achieve the ambitious goal of education for all. With the growing stigma and discrimination, many children face several problems in families and communities for their food, shelter and education.
Although CABA have the same rights as other children, they acutely lack psycho-social counseling, care and support in families. This is why the education sector policy should address the education rights of CABA in a more comprehensive and pragmatic approach.
Unfortunately, there is no education sector policy yet in the context of HIV/AIDS. So, there is a need for better coordination with national entities such as the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control and HIV/AIDS and STD Control Board to strengthen education sector response. Due to limited resources and technical capacity, these entities have not been effective in coordinating a wide range of stakeholders for a multi-sectoral response.
In the health sector, there are increasing challenges of providing voluntary counseling and testing services, referrals to hospitals for treatment and care. People living with HIV/AIDS in rural areas do not have easy access to health services and hence, they face several problems for their survival.
Given the limited resources, very few hospitals in the country are providing anti-retroviral treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS. However, the demand for such treatment and care is on the rise.
Supply and demand for schooling
Therefore, there are considerable reasons why education sector response is critically important to accelerating national response. By raising public awareness through education, a huge mass of general school children and teachers will be empowered to protect themselves from HIV in the families. Experience has also shown that the epidemic affects the supply and demand for primary and secondary schooling, especially in high HIV prevalence countries. Moreover, lack of schooling contributes to the further spread of the epidemic.
Undoubtedly, education remains one of the most effective approaches to prevent HIV transmission and to mitigate the impact of the epidemic. This is because it has inter-generational positive impacts on poverty and health. More importantly, it will provide strong evidence to support the widespread implementation of effective school-based interventions to increase knowledge and reduce sexual risk behavior.
(Source: The Rising Nepal)