Plenary, World Education Forum
by Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS
26 April 2000
behalf of the seven co-sponsoring organizations of UNAIDS -
the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - I very much
welcome the opportunity to talk with you about an issue which
concerns us all - namely the global epidemic of AIDS which has
become one of the greatest leadership challenges of our time.
is not just another disease that already kills more people than
any other health problem here in Africa. There is no other single
factor at work in the world today that so systematically undermines
the gains of decades of investment in human resources, education,
health, and the well-being of nations. An epidemic that threatens
so terrible the education goals that were set - An epidemic
that erodes the demand for education as more and more children
and families are affected, that diminishes the supply of teachers
and with it, of course, the quality of education.
over 34 million adults and children are living with HIV in the
world, 24 million in Africa alone - but the Caribbean, parts
of Asia and Eastern Europe are catching up fast. This is truly
a global problem. Half of the 16,000 new infections each day
are among young people between 15 and 24 years. And I could
go on for a long time about the stigma, about orphans, about
the economic impact etc. However it is perhaps the more important
lesson concerning AIDS of the last decade is that we are NOT
powerless against the epidemic. Communities all over the world,
and whole nations - from Thailand to Australia to Brazil, to
Uganda, and our host country, Senegal, have demonstrated that
it is possible to turn the tide of new infections and provide
care for those already infected.
this kind of situations, education has an essential role to
play. It is the major means, if not the only means, by which
we can prevent infection. It is a key vehicle for changing attitudes
and beliefs, for empowering children, and for building tolerance
and compassion. For these reasons, there is close synergy between
the goals of Education for All and those that UNAIDS pursues.
And for that reason I am proud that the 5 UN co-sponsors of
the Forum are also cosponsors of UNAIDS.
me be absolutely clear - AIDS constitutes one of the biggest
threats to the global education agenda, because what HIV - the
AIDS virus - does to the human body, it also does to society;
it undermines the very cells that are meant to protect us, which
are key to the very fabric of society - I am talking about the
farmers, the doctors, the politicians, the teachers… For example,
in the Central African Republic, as many teachers died in service
as retired between 1996 and 1998, and most died from HIV infection.
In Cote d'Ivoire, an average of five teachers die every week
of the school year - most of these from AIDS. In Zambia, the
equivalent of two thirds of all teachers trained annually died
from AIDS in 1998. I believe that we have not yet fully grasped
the implications of this silent tragedy.
AIDS has serious consequences beyond the education system itself.
As families are affected by the disease, they may no longer
be able to pay school fees, and withdraw their children from
school. Girls are particularly disadvantaged by this.
the Secretary-General so forcefully reminded us this morning,
in the era of AIDS, narrowing the gender gap in education becomes
even more vital. It is for this reason that the initiative on
girls education led by UNICEF, and announced this morning by
the Secretary General is also much needed for an AIDS perspective.
me now touch on a controversial issue: all too often it is feared
that educating young people about sex and sexual relationships
will encourage sexual promiscuity. Fortunately, quite the opposite
is true. We have scientific and systematic evidence from all
over the world that well structured programmes of sex and relationships
education actually lower levels of risk taking. They can moreover
delay the onset of sex among those who are not yet sexually
it cant all come from the adults! we still tend to under-estimate
what a powerful force for change young people themselves are
in their own households, in the lives of their peers,, and in
the wider community. Therefore AIDS-related activities by young
people themselves, including HIV infected boys and girls, and
in youth organizations deserve our fullest support.
us all accept that now and for a long time to come, AIDS is
an integral part of the "condition humaine." Therefore it is
essential that the education system urgently addresses the short
and longer term consequences of the AIDS epidemic - on demand
and on quality of education, as well as on its human resources
management, while at the same time it finally engages with enthusiasm
and determination in the struggle against AIDS. In the age of
AIDS, teaching life skills is far from being a luxury for well-off
countries. It will literally save millions of lives. We don't
have a biological vaccine - and we wont have one for a long
time - but as the Thai Minister of Health said last year, we
do have a social vaccine. Its three components are (i) education
about AIDS, how to prevent being infected, and to be compassionate
towards those infected, (ii) life skills education for all children,
and (iii) 100% condom us.
addition, for the most affected countries, three priority areas
to maximize the impact of education on reducing HIV transmission
and its impact. 1. Policies to ensure educational programmes
for AIDS orphans and children who head households; 2. Integrating
AIDS education into non-formal education programmes through
community-based constituencies (as an adjunct to mainstream
programmes) ; and 3. Developing innovative education programmes
for young girls whose HIV risk and vulnerability are increasing
rapidly. It is only through this resolute engagement against
AIDS of the education sector as a whole that we will reach another
goal set by the international community at the General Assembly
Special Session on Population and Development, and by the UN
Secretary General in his Millennium Report this year: the reduction
of HIV infection rates among 15 to 25 years olds - by 25% within
the most affected countries before 2010. This is an ambitious
goal indeed but it is possible - as already shown by some countries
I mentioned earlier - but time is not on our side. Without containing
HIV, we stand no chance of reaching the goals of Education for
All. But if in every country we make the kind of broad partnerships
work that are discussed here, I am convinced we will succeed.