December 1, which was some days ago is a very important day to pause just for a while and reflect back on the progress made on the fight against HIV and AIDS.
In 2002, South Africa had an estimated 4.25 million people living with HIV. Today however, that number has increased to an estimate of 7.52 million.
The association between school and HIV risk has been argued for quite a long time now, this is due to the suggestion that formal education acts as a ‘social vaccine’ to reduce the spread of HIV by giving young people more information about the virus and how to protect themselves from getting infected.
Formal education can reduce vulnerability to HIV by exposing boys and girls to information, building self-esteem and skills, improving economic prospects, and by influencing the balance of power within sexual relationships (UNAIDS Outcome Framework, 2009; UNESCO et al., 2009)
The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) had once estimated that universal primary education alone would prevent 700,000 new HIV infections each year.
Schooling delays first sex, marriage and childbearing, and decreases risk of HIV infection (Gulemetova, 2011; Hargreaves et al., 2008; Lloyd and Young, 2009; Pettifor et al., 2008; Soler-Hampejsek et al., 2009.)
In 2007, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) collected data from a national sample of about 61,000 sixth graders who took part in their third research project. Using indicators, they measured the pupils’ and teachers’ levels of knowledge about HIV and AIDS.
At the time of the research project, HIV and AIDS education had been formally introduced in the primary schools of SACMEQ III participating countries (except Mauritius and Zanzibar). The findings revealed that about 36% of boys and girls have acquired half the knowledge covered in the end-of-primary curricula. See the graph below.
Research clearly suggests that improving access to schooling should be considered alongside educating learners about HIV prevention strategies.
Educated mothers are more likely to seek testing during pregnancy and to know that HIV can be transmitted by breastfeeding.
Cross-sectional studies have found that women with more equal power in their intimate relationships are less likely to have unintended pregnancies or HIV (Dunkle et al., 2004; Jewkes et al., 2001).
Whether education is a direct social vaccine to HIV or not, it is evident from study to study that educating young learners, especially young girls is very important when fighting against HIV infections.
More information, especially in rural areas, needs to be distributed as they are there ones more likely to be infected by HIV.