HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean
A new regional campaign aims to influence decision-makers and practitioners in the education sector to take action regarding HIV/AIDS. On February 16, 2005, EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) and UNESCO’s Office for the Caribbean launched the new “Campaign on Advocacy and Leadership to Advance the Caribbean Education Sector Response to HIV/AIDS” in Trinidad and Tobago.
The campaign’s goals are to:
- Advocate for a comprehensive approach in the education sector to health promotion and the mitigation of the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic
- Create a demand within the formal and informal education sector for technical know-how and financial resources for such an approach to be realized
- Advance policies and programs that protect the lives of students, their teachers, and managers throughout the sector
- Promote inclusion of persons living with HIV
“The first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean saw the response largely concentrated within the health sector. It is only in recent years that the need for an expanded response from the education sector has been considered” (Kelly & Bain, 2004). According to Dr. Zulaika Ali of the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Medical Sciences, “No one has assessed what has been done and what needs to be done regarding the impact of HIV/AIDS on the education sector.”
Involving the education sector is crucial given the high prevalence of HIV in the Caribbean (second only to Sub-Saharan Africa), the large number of children affected by AIDS, and the interrelationship of health and education. In addition, schools are workplaces for thousands of teachers and other staff, so protecting them as well as students is essential for maintaining a quality education system.
Building on EDC’s experience in developing leadership capacity in education to address HIV/AIDS and UNESCO Caribbean’s publication of Kelly and Bain’s book, this new campaign will create ways to reduce the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the education sector as a whole. Its comprehensive approach includes four key elements:
- Overarching policies that counter stigma and discrimination and protect students and school staff
- Curriculum and teacher training in the context of health promotion for responsible lifestyles as addressed by the Health and Family Life Education framework
- Creating a healthy physical and psychosocial school environment
- Services provided through trained guidance counsellors and mechanisms to coordinate a full continuum of services in the community including prevention, voluntary counselling and testing, and anti-retroviral drugs
Implementing this approach will also require support from the public health sector, business, unions, parents, and the faith community. “There is a need to build sustained partnerships,” says Carol Keller of the University of the West Indies, School of Education.
The campaign will be co-developed with two countries in the Caribbean-Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica-and a third to be determined. Outstanding leaders in those countries will be identified who will commit to using their expertise, influence, and skills to identify target audiences and design advocacy messages, strategies, and tools for use in their countries and throughout the region.
Cheryl Vince Whitman, HHD Director, who spoke at the launch, comments, “It is crucial to move beyond tradition-beyond the tradition of the education sector’s focus primarily on academics and beyond the tradition of a curriculum-only approach to HIV/AIDS. The education sector’s influence in society is crucial in saving generations of Caribbean youth as it leads in countering stigma and discrimination and a deepened response for teachers and students.”