Getting to Zero, Starting with Education

World AIDS Day (WAD), on December 1, was created to raise awareness about the disease, demonstrate solidarity and reflect on progress in the response. The theme for this WAD, and all others until 2015, is “Getting to Zero: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.” UNAIDS in its 2013 Global Report highlight some significant achievements, such as the reduction of sexual transmission of HIV in some countries, but this is not the time for complacency. Existing gains must be reinforced and there is still a lot of work to be done to reach the UN internationally agreed target of 95 per cent knowledge levels amongst young people by 2015.

This World AIDS Day is an opportunity to celebrate much progress… All of this is positive, but fragile. There are worrisome signs that social and behavioural programmes may now have a lower priority than before…Young people continue to be a priority target for global action. This group still requires effective HIV and sexuality education programmes, access to high-quality and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and the elimination of sexual violence against young women and girls

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General


UNESCO Regional activities in 2013

The education sector has a key role to play in preventing new infections, supporting testing, treatment and care, and reducing stigma and discrimination. To that end, in 2013, UNESCO has been involved in a number of activities and programmes. In particular it has supported countries by providing technical support to ministries of education in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Asia-Pacific. It has also worked with civil society and the private sector to increase the impact and efficiency of a coordinated HIV response.

The last few years have seen a distinctive change in the HIV response. International funding is decreasing while domestic funding is increasing. Priorities are changing, with “AIDS fatigue” setting in in some areas. Advances in medical research and technology are requiring adaptation of the response to new realities (please see box on UNESCO’s new publication, Charting the Course of Education and HIV, for further analysis of these changes and the way forward).

In response, UNESCO is focusing on the needs of young people and adolescents for coordinated sexual and reproductive education and services (see article on Young People Today for further details). It is also exploring new ways of reaching large numbers in an efficient and effective manner, for example through its association with Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, to provide sexual and reproductive health information (see Newsletter for further details). In addition, UNESCO is working to build capacity for effective programming with young people among key populations (YKPs). To that end, training modules were developed and piloted in Asia Pacific, adapted for East and Southern Africa and LAC, and training has started.

Please see below for a regional overview of UNESCO activities in 2013

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At regional level in Eastern and Southern Africa, a process was launched to mobilize political commitment to make good quality HIV and sexuality education, as well as youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services available to all young people. A report Young People Today. Time to Act Now analysing the current situation and emphasising the need for coordinated action by education and health sectors was launched in October. The initiative, which involves 21 member states in the ESA region, will culminate in a meeting of ministers of education and health on 7 December 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Implementation of a project to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people by strengthening the quality and content of sexuality education in schools has started in six countries: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. A further ten countries in the region will also benefit from regional capacity building and lesson sharing. The project addresses current gaps in sexuality education by working to build greater political commitment for the issue and by supporting the review and revision of curricula to ensure that they meet international standards and respond to the real needs of young people in each country. UNESCO will also focus its efforts on improving teacher education so that all teachers can feel confident and equipped with the appropriate information and pedagogical skills to teach this sensitive but critical subject. 

In Western and Central Africa, UNESCO has been very active in developing an HIV workplace policy for the education sector and supported the development of a regional network of teachers living with HIV. In order to better understand young people and adolescents’ needs, behaviour and knowledge levels two studies have been initiated in the region. The information gathered will be analysed and findings used to improve existing and future programmes. The region also developed a set of guidelines on how to scale up peer education based on experience from the Gambia.

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Eastern Europe and Central Asia

In the Ukraine, UNESCO supported the recent revision of primary and secondary school textbooks which integrated comprehensive sexuality education into the Basics of Health, an obligatory subject. It is estimated that nearly 4.6 million children will benefit from the new textbooks. In addition, an ICT-based teacher training course developed by the All-Ukrainian Association of Teachers and Trainers will be rolled-out early in 2014 to enhance capacities of teachers that deliver Basics of Health across the country.

UNESCO has supported the development of two new websites providing information on sexual and reproductive health in the region. It has also, in the past year, been working with Psychologies magazine to provide a comprehensive guide on adolescent development and sexuality for parents and future parents. The aim of the articles and booklets is to enable parents to support their children’s transition to adulthood and to enable them to make healthy and responsible choices. 

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Asia and the Pacific

The epidemiological context of the region has highlighted the importance of addressing the needs of young key populations, and UNESCO is working to ensure that the education sector responds to these needs. UNESCO recently launched a new resource to improve policy-making, planning and programme delivery for young key populations.

Entitled Young Key Populations at Higher Risk of HIV in Asia and the Pacific: Making the Case with Strategic Information, it provides guidance on ethical issues, how to collect and analyse data, and how to disseminate and use strategic information. UNESCO also initiated a programme to engage young people as leaders in HIV prevention and the fight to end stigma and discrimination. The programme is developing the capacity of leaders from key populations to get their voices heard and their needs met in national and regional HIV programmes. Other activities in the region include media training to reduce stigma and discrimination and the use of movies and museum exhibition to generate discussion and encourage action among young people. 

For further details of UNESCO’s work in the region please visit the Bangkok website.

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Latin America and the Caribbean

In Peru, UNESCO has assisted the ministry to integrate issues associated with sexuality education and personal well-being into the basic curriculum, which will have an impact on all children and young people attending schools. UNESCO is also supporting 15 Latin American countries to work together to improve comprehensive sexuality education through the Regional Community of Practice on Sexuality Education. In Latin America, UNESCO collaborated with UNAIDS, PAHO and the NGOs Vivo Positivo and Asosida to develop a Stigma and Discrimination Index and undertake a study on the barriers and the facilitators to access to health services for men-who-have-sex-with-men and transgender people.

Brazil has been very active in a South-South cooperation programme with Cape Verde. This included training teachers in Cape Verde using materials developed by UNESCO and the Brazilian ministries of health and education, setting up a distance learning course for teachers and health professional on youth, sexuality and HIV, and providing an online facilitator and organising a meeting of youth from both countries to exchange ideas and train them in edu-communications on the topics of violence prevention, HIV, STIs and health promotion.


Related information

Message from the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova (PDF) 

UNAIDS Executive Director's message (PDF)


Previous Editions:  2012 2011 



UNESCO Publication

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Charting the Course of Education and HIV

More than three decades after the identification of the virus, HIV continues to affect millions of people worldwide. From the beginning, the education sector played a central role in responding to the epidemic, notably by providing school-based HIV education, which has been the subject of much debate. On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2013, UNESCO is releasing a new publication Charting the Course of Education and HIV which provides an overview of the role of the education sector and approaches to HIV education and how they have evolved; as well as points out the major lessons learned. Building on the experience of UNESCO staff and contributions from some of the key thinkers and practitioners in this field, this book examines emerging challenges and opportunities that need to be harnessed to reach the internationally agreed targets related to HIV and AIDS. Finally, it proposes a way forward for the education sector to contribute to the prevention of new infections, treatment and care, and reduce stigma and discrimination.

Young People Today. ..

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Young People Today. Time to Act Now

Empowering young people to exercise their rights to education, health and citizenship

On 6-7 December 2013, education and health ministers from 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, to agree on a political commitment on the need for sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services in the region. These recommendations have the potential to bring about critical improvements in the education, wellbeing and life chances of millions of young people as well as the development of the region as a whole.

This ministerial meeting will be a defining moment for the HIV epidemic, for young women and a turning point in the history of how adolescents and young people are empowered to exercise their rights to education, health and citizenship.

With all the evidence pointing to the benefits that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services can provide in a rapidly changing society, why is it so vital that the region’s health and education ministers make this commitment in December?

A recent report on the region, Young People Today. Time To Act Now, shows that while there have been encouraging gains in terms of HIV in this region – 6,3 million people are on treatment and far larger numbers of people are living longer and healthier lives - there are still 50 new HIV infections every hour among young people, with the majority occurring among young women. Less than 60% of young people in the region still don’t know basic facts on preventing HIV infection. As well as HIV, young people face many other sexual and reproductive health issues particularly early and unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.

Addressing these issues requires bold action from ministries of health and education with support from a range of partners. The delivery of CSE from primary school onwards, by trained teachers, and access to SRH services are key components of an effective response for young people.

Ministries, civil society organisations including youth organisations and partners have been holding meetings at country level to review the evidence and provide input to the content of the ministerial commitment. UNESCO, with its partners, is committed to making sure adolescents and young people have what it takes to lead healthier and more informed lives.  




  • This edition of the eNewsletter highlights a small selection of the many programmes and events being supported by UNESCO’s regional and country offices on this World AIDS Day.

UNAIDS Report 2013

New HIV infections have fallen by 33% since 2001.

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More about UNAIDS Report 2013

In 2012, an estimated:

  • 35.3 million people were living with HIV.
  • 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV, down from 3.4 million in 2001.
  • New HIV infections among children have declined by 52% since 2001.
  • AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 30% since the peak in 2005. 

UNAIDS reports that in 26 countries new HIV infections among adults and adolescents have decreased by 50% or more since 2001. However, other countries are not on track to achieve the target of halving sexual transmission by 2015, and recent surveys in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa are revealing a decrease in safer sexual behaviours. To achieve the sexual transmission target will therefore require prevention efforts to be intensified. 

Inadequate access to comprehensive sexuality education, youth-friendly HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, as well as sexual violence against young women and girls are undermining efforts to protect young people from acquiring HIV. While knowledge levels remain low among young people (15–24 years) in sub-Saharan Africa (36% for young men and 28% for young women), the percentage demonstrating comprehensive and accurate understanding of HIV rose by five percentage points for men and by three for women from 2002 to 2011.  Full report.


“It Happened to Me”

On the eve of World AIDS Day 2013, UNESCO will screen the short film ‘It Happened To Me’ on November 28, in Paris (France).The film, funded by UNESCO, was directed by Chris Ihidero; a young Nigerian film director.  

This short film, based on a true story, looks at the HIV situation among young people, in Nigeria, from the film director’s perspective. It is filmed using Nigeria’s cinema industry know-how and style, also known as “Nollywood”.

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About the Film

Nollywood films are frequently characterized by ultra-low budget and informal distribution, such as via street vendors or on-line streaming, which enable views by large audiences. 

By supporting this film, UNESCO aims to increase HIV awareness and prevention, particularly among young people in Nigeria. 10% of the people living with HIV in the world are in Nigeria, of which 23% are under the age of 24 years. 

By launching this movie in Paris, UNESCO provides a rare opportunity to release a Nollywood film outside of Nigeria and West Africa and highlight the use of culturally appropriate approaches to HIV education, as the content and approach are specifically tailored to a young Nigerian audience. The film was designed to initiate discussion and enable young people to debate the issues in a franc and open fashion in their community. This gives European audiences a unique lens to view one application of culturally adapted approaches to education. 

Within UNESCO, Culture is understood in its broadest definition, on the basis of the 1982 Mexico Declaration. Culture is not only the arts and creativity, but also modes of life, traditions, beliefs, perceptions of health, disease and death, family structures, gender relations, languages and means of communication, value systems and ways of living together. 

We invite you to view the trailer. The film will be available online after its launch on the 28 November 2013