Teacher unions balance HIV prevention and treatment in AIDS response
In 2006 governments worldwide committed to achieving universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support on HIV and AIDS by 2010. With current access to anti-retroviral treatment meeting only half the needs and with five new infections for every two people who start treatment, greater investment backed by strong strategies is a must.
Teacher unions in EI’s EFAIDS Programme work in four of the priority areas highlighted by UNAIDS; ensuring people living with HIV receive treatment, ending punitive practices and discrimination, empowering young people to protect themselves from HIV, and enhancing social protection for people affected by HIV. Education International sees education as a kind of “social vaccine.” Learning about HIV prevention and behaviour change can transform the negative impact of HIV and AIDS globally. Equally, EI recognises the need to support teachers who are living with HIV so they have access to treatment and can continue to contribute to the education sector without fear of discrimination. With effective and sustained anti-retroviral therapy, those living with HIV can enjoy life expectancies similar to those uninfected by the virus. However, social change has not kept pace with scientific progress; indeed, stigma and discrimination can hinder scientific advances. This point was highlighted by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who, together with Luc Montagnier won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine for first identifying the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the 1980s. Speaking in Brussels in October 2009, Barré-Sinoussi asserted that quick testing complemented by quick treatment are key to effective treatment for HIV. Eager to tackle HIV on many levels, unions engaged in the EFAIDS Programme are working to break down stigma associated with testing and broaden access to treatment. The Namibian National Teachers’ Union (NANTU) estimates that more than 20,000 teachers have participated in regional Edusector Health Days where they can access voluntary counselling and testing, and receive reliable information on HIV and AIDS. In 2009 the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) stepped up its HIV-testing campaign, urging its members: “Know your sero-status.” The UNATU National Secretariat is building a resource database to link teachers with testing services and counsellors nationwide. Further evidence of union commitment to teacher wellbeing can be seen in Buenos Aires, where the Argentinean teacher union confederation CTERA runs a dedicated HIV Testing and Counselling Centre. To give teachers the best chance of staying healthy, early testing must be backed up by consistent access to effective treatment programmes. In Uganda, where 1 in 5 people know their status, less than half of those who require treatment can get it. Cuts in funding restrict supplies of antiretroviral medicines and interrupt treatment, with serious health implications. Unions are increasingly treating HIV and AIDS as a workplace issue and are developing policies and rolling out services to uphold their members’ rights to access treatment. By Julie Kavanagh.