Scott Pulizzi, of EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD), recently returned from Kenya and Uganda, his latest of more than 30 trips to Africa, where he is working to alleviate HIV. He talked with us about what he’s learned through his special connections to teachers there, and how their experience has changed his thinking and reinvigorated his work.
“Many African countries that are plagued by HIV are also grappling with the same political and social issues as they were 10 to 15 years ago— democracy, poverty, the environment, basic education, famine, and health problems, including malaria and malnutrition. Now the prolonged effects of the AIDS epidemic have taken hold. Many of us no longer see AIDS as a stand-alone issue, as it compounds so many of these other problems. Those entrenched problems exacerbate AIDS.
AIDS makes us examine and address the social and cultural issues that are driving up rates of HIV, in ways we haven’t before.
Take gender equity. In Uganda, I heard so many stories of youth who relied on transactional means to support themselves. So many girls don’t finish school—leaving them not only without an education, but increasing their risk for HIV. When issues of gender equity and empowerment are not addressed in these situations, we’re seeing alarming escalation in HIV rates.
Our work in HHD is about helping the education sector develop a comprehensive response to the AIDS pandemic. We can link access to medications, voluntary testing and counseling, and comprehensive prevention education. Very few places are taking this multifaceted approach. Our niche, and EDC’s strength, is strengthening the education sector—from all sides. We reach national governments, ministries, teachers, teachers unions, students.
We used to talk solely about HIV prevention throughout our materials. But then we realized that this didn’t speak to the many people already living with HIV. Even if someone is HIV positive, he or she can take steps to keep him- or herself and others healthy and stay that way—sometimes for 10 to 15 years.
That’s why we now talk about HIV and AIDS education. We talk about healthy habits. We know that if people don’t take care of diet, sleep, stress levels, and preventing re-infection, they develop AIDS more rapidly. We are trying to promote the idea that no matter what your HIV status is, you can make a healthier future for yourself, your family, and others.”
Originally published on January 1, 2007