Education International
Education International

Education of girls key to AIDS prevention

published 1 September 2006 updated 1 September 2006

It is high time to confront the vulnerability of girls to HIV and AIDS, and to support the crucial role of the education sector in combating the pandemic.

That was the message Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, brought to the 16th International AIDS Conference, held August 13 to 18, 2006 in Toronto, Canada. An estimated 24,000 delegates from around the world shared the latest research and strategies on prevention, treatment and rights for those living with HIV and AIDS. “Today, AIDS has a young girl’s face,”said Robinson. “In Africa alone, 6.4 million youngsters between 16 and 24 are infected, and 75% of them are girls and young women.” Robinson praised conference organizers who, for the first time, placed a high priority on the role of education, specifically for girls. “Education is the best investment for the future,” Robinson said. “The school is potentially life saving.” Strong applause from thousands in the audience underscored their support for her statement. Like Education International, Robinson emphasized the undeniable link between the goal of Education for All and the ability of public education systems to make a successful contribution to preventing HIV infection. Specific emphasis on gender equality must be a core task in all these efforts, she said. “Governments must honour their commitment to education goals, and strengthen the coordination between EFA and HIV,” she insisted. “These bridges are absolutely necessary.” EI also had a role at the conference. Gertrude James and René Jolibois, EFAIDS Programme Coordinators from Guyana and Haiti respectively, and Zainab Akiwumi of the World Health Organization in South Africa spoke at a well-attended special session on the role of teachers and their unions in combating HIV and AIDS. All speakers underlined the lack of initiative on the part of their respective governments in providing necessary and systematic pre- and in-service training of teachers. Scientists at the conference reported that over one million people are now undergoing treatment, 90% of whom live in the industrialised countries. By contrast, 90% of those who are HIV infected live in developing countries, where they cannot get access to treatment. The number of people being treated today is much lower than the global target of having 3 million persons on treatment by 2005. Poverty and the lack of access to anti-retroviral drugs still comprise the major obstacles to saving millions of lives. By Wouter van der Schaaf Wouter van der Schaaf is EI’s campaigns coordinator responsible for the EFAIDS programme.