Africa faces education drain due to HIV/AIDS

Posted: 24 May 2002

Education could play a critical role in HIV/AIDS prevention but the pandemic's devastating impact threatens to derail any such efforts, the World Bank warns in a new report.

"HIV/AIDS is draining the supply of education, eroding its quality, weakening demand and access, drying up countries' pools of skilled workers and increasing the sector's costs," says the report Education and HIV/AIDS: A Window of Hope released in May (2002).

In the Central African Republic, 85 per cent of teachers who died between 1996 and 1998 were HIV-positive, and they died 10 years before they were due to retire.

Education administrators were also affected. At least 12 per cent of South Africa's administrative personnel were estimated to be HIV positive.

Teacher absenteeism and non-performance could also be attributed to the largely ignored psychological effects of the pandemic.

In Zambia, more than two-thirds of a survey sample of teachers with relatives who were ill with or had died of AIDS were unable or unwilling to talk about the problem with friends or family. Such isolation, coupled with fear about their own HIV status, took its toll on teachers and their ability to teach.

According to the report, African universities are now operating in a worsening socio-economic environment. A recent study of several African universities in Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia found an "overwhelming atmosphere of ignorance, secrecy, denial and fear of stigmatisation and discrimination in relation to AIDS".

The impact of the epidemic on demand for education was less clear, however, as the school age population would continue to grow despite being reduced by HIV/AIDS.

But girls' access to education had been curtailed by HIV/AIDS, as they were more likely to be retained at home to care for sick relatives.

"In some countries the epidemic contributes to making the education system itself a source of risk, especially for girls," the report said. In one Ugandan district 31 percent of schoolgirls surveyed reported being sexually abused, mainly by teachers.

Zambia has estimated the cost of replacing teachers who have died of HIV/AIDS at US $25 million between 2000 and 2010, and Mozambique's estimate is about twice as much.

After a school health education programme in Uganda yielded little progress in attitudes and behavioural change, the education ministry adopted a life skills project for primary and secondary schools. Consequently, Uganda's AIDS Commission reported a fall in the rate of new infections of almost 50 per cent among 15 to 19-year-olds, the report observed.

The World Bank is working with partners to support countries throughout Africa in assessing the impact of HIV/AIDS on their education systems and planning appropriate reponses through improved school health programmes.