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AIDS epidemic wiping out gains in education
 
  Johannesburg, 7 December 1999 - Some 40 million people are affected or infected with HIV/AIDS in sub-Sahara Africa, many of whom of are youths aged below 25 years, according to a study by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
 
  The findings of the study presented at the ongoing Sub-Saharan African Conference on Education For All (EFA) in Johannesburg, South Africa, says the HIV/AIDS scourge has contributed to low life expectancy in many African countries.
 
  The study done by UNICEF consultant Mrs Debbie Gachuhi, says: "In Malawi, due to AIDS deaths, the 1997 population census shows that the overall population growth rate is now only 1.9 per cent per annum compared with the projected growth rate of 3.2 per cent in the 1987 census."
 
  Overall, the AIDS-related mortality has begun to eliminate the gains made in child survival in the past 20 years.
 
  "Children are the most affected as a result of the HIV/AIDS as they live with sick relatives in households stressed by the drain on their resources. They are emotionally and physically vulnerable to the illness of one or both parents," she said during the second day of the regional conference that is attended by more than 300 participants.
 
  One of the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic is already being felt in the education sector, where the death of teachers and parents is affecting the delivery of teaching and support of education programmes.
 
   Citing the case of Kenya, the report says one of the country's eight provinces is now experiencing a situation where one teacher dies every day due to AIDS. It says that between 20 and 30 teachers die every month in the province and the number is likely to increase unless urgent intervention measures are put in place to redress the scourge.
 
  Mrs Gachuhi, says: "There will be less qualified teachers, as trained and experienced staff are replaced with younger and less well trained teachers."
 
  She added: "It is quite apparent that as AIDS continues to take its toll, there will be schools with no headteachers and inspectors. This has a negative impact on the education system's ability to plan, manage and implement policies and programmes."
 
  She said the schools are further likely to be affected by psychological effects of having infection, illness and death among children and teachers. The provision of education will be severely affected as illness, absenteeism and death invade the learning institutions.
 
  One way to redress the impact of HIV/AIDS is to build capacity among children to support themselves "by enabling them to stay in school and acquire not only vocational skills but life skills as well."
 
  Mrs Gachuhi said many children are vulnerable to sexual abuse and harassment, and therefore need special protection to ensure that they are not infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
 
  She outlined some of the psycho-social aspects that need to be included in life skills programmes, including self-awareness and empathy, private communication and interpersonal communication, decision-making and problem solving. Learners also require skills in creative thinking and ways of coping with emotions and stress that emanate from loss of parents and guardians.
 
  The study outlined some of the success stories in implementing life skills education programmes have been implemented in some countries in the region, notably Zimbabwe. Started seven years ago, the Zimbabwe Action Programme for Schools appears to have led to behaviour change among pupils, thus reduced the risk of HIV infection.
 
  Meanwhile, the non-governmental organisations dealing in education yesterday asked governments to provide opportunities to children in difficult conditions to get access to education.
 
  In a declaration presented to the conference, the NGOs called on the governments to rationalise their expenditure and increase funding to education.
 
  "The state must elaborate clear policies and plans within an overall poverty framework, including a minimum of seven per cent of Gross Domestic Product to finance education," they said.
 
  They underscored the fact that provision of education is a responsibility of the state, which they cannot abdicate from.
 
  The conference is organised by the Education Forum For All (EFA) Forum, which is convened by five UN agencies - Unesco, Unicef, UNDP, UNFPA and the World Bank. It ends on Friday.
 
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