This article describes concern for the effect of HIV/AIDS on the population of teachers based on their role in achieving the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In short, the document states that: "As more and more teachers die, an already weakened educational system is left with the dual challenge of increasing numbers of pupils and decreasing numbers of teachers."
According to global estimates, the cost of HIV to the educational system resulting from death and absenteeism could be as high as US$1 billion per year. "Stigma and discrimination continue to hinder effective responses to HIV and AIDS. In this respect, HIV-positive teachers have not been exempt, especially in communities where HIV is incorrectly seen as an indication of improper behaviour. Because of this sensitivity, schools, teachers’ unions and governments have struggled with ways to support HIV-positive colleagues and, as a result, responses have been piecemeal and poorly documented. There is a great need to draw together experiences to develop a comprehensive response for HIV-positive teachers that fulfils their right to access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services as well as their right to work without discrimination."
As stated here, most education ministries have policies related to teachers and HIV/AIDS, but those policies do not transfer to the school level because of lack of guidelines, action plans, and limited resources for supporting infected and affected teachers. The document advocates for strong teachers' role in breaking down stigma and for their involvement in decision-making around policies addressing HIV in the education sector. The following are measures recommended here to help ensure this response:
- Identify and address the varying needs of HIV-positive teachers: develop a comprehensive response for supporting and involving teachers with HIV that acknowledges individual situations and needs and work at several levels: the individual, e.g., health and emotional well-being; the occupational, i.e., discrimination and absenteeism; the community, e.g., stigma; and the systemic, e.g., undermining of the provision of education.
- Tackle stigma and discrimination – develop strategies on how to support HIV-positive teachers without increasing their vulnerability to stigma and discrimination. Advocacy is required at the community level to better understand stigma and discrimination and their harmful effects, and workplace policies established and reinforced to protect the rights of those infected with HIV (right to employment, right to education, right to health).
- Ensure early access to prevention programmes, treatment, care, and support: ensure that teachers are able to access affordable and confidential information and services.
- Prevent and address gender-based violence and sexual harassment: Unions and governments should work together to establish codes of conduct that establish zero tolerance of sexual harassment and abuse in schools of students and colleagues.
- Build links between teachers’ unions and networks of HIV-positive teachers: HIV-positive teachers’ networks and teachers’ unions have been vocal in promoting the needs of their members, but they may have limited membership, weak structures, and low sustainability. Teachers' unions, as
assessed here, are one of the strongest potential allies of networks of
teachers with HIV, but some unions in the region have been unsure of how to support HIV-positive teachers.
- Engage HIV-positive teachers in the education sector response to HIV and AIDS: According to the document, their active engagement in advocacy, identification of needs, and design of effective programmes can be effective and should be supported at all levels, i.e., provincial, district, and national levels. Good practice must be documented, disseminated, and adapted by and for HIV-positive teachers.
The document concludes with queries in need of further research on the effect of teacher attrition, the existing HIV/AIDS-related support for teachers, the stigma and discrimination levels influencing their work life, the potential role of antiretroviral therapy (ART), the potential of union advocacy, and the training needs of principals/school directors.
Email from Mara Milanesi to The Communication Initiative on April 2 2008.