JIS News

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture’s National Policy for the Management of HIV/AIDS in schools is ready for dissemination to the island’s schools.
The policy, which received final approval on January 6, 2002, is aimed at instilling non-discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, whether staff or student. It also focuses on protecting the right of the individual to be in an educational institution and ensuring that there is balance in protecting persons who might be at risk because of contact.
It further provides guidelines for institutions on the treatment of students and school personnel infected with HIV/AIDS and promotes the use of universal precautions in all potential infectious situations.
The Policy will also ensure that there is the provision of systematic and consistent information and educational material on the disease to students and school personnel throughout the system. It also provides for non-disclosure of persons’ HIV/AIDS status.
At a recent retreat of the Ministry of Education held to review the Ministry’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Bertrand Bainvel a representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF, in noting the prevalence of the disease in Jamaica and the world at large, declared that children were one of the most adversely affected groups.
He said the high prevalence of the disease among adults meant that many more Jamaican children would have to “live with the horror of watching one or both parents die from the disease. HIV/AIDS has already turned their lives upside down,” Mr. Bainvel lamented.
Local statistics show that HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 years, while an estimated 5,125 children under the age of 15 are orphaned through the loss of a mother or both parents.
Continuing, Mr. Bainvel pointed out that raising awareness on HIV/AIDS issues is a universally difficult one and talking about sex and sexuality is difficult, especially for parents of adolescents. He however stated that adults had a responsibility to impart knowledge on HIV/AIDS to children.
Mr. Bainvel noted that whereas an estimated 22,000 persons in Jamaica are now living with the disease, over two million are not, making it an opportune time to “care and to act” as “it is important to make an effort to impact the unaffected group.”
Turning to the impact of the policy on the management of HIV/AIDS in schools, he said the policy “represents an important landmark,” noting that its implementation would affect and benefit a total of 700,000 teachers and students across the island. It has been estimated that there are 500 teachers in the system that may be carrying the disease.
He however, noted that an intersectoral approach was important, as fighting HIV/AIDS requires courage, strength and leadership to tackle the disease and the attendant stigma, as ignorance often leads to persons being ostracized and ultimately embarrassed.
Coordinator for HIV/AIDS education in the Education Ministry, Mavis Fuller, in giving an overview of the policy, said the epidemic represented a global challenge with accompanying social consequences such as the rise in orphanhood.
She said this problem would become more acute with the next generation with an increase in homes headed by children who might turn to prostitution to eke out a living.
Statistics reveal that half of all persons infected are between the ages of 15 and 24, with the infection rate being five persons per minute; furthermore Jamaica is third in the region in high incidences of HIV/AIDS infection. In 2002, every week, at least 12 persons died as a result of the disease; meanwhile girls in the 10-19 age groups are 2.5 times more likely to be infected than boys of the same group.
In terms of the distribution of the policy, Miss Fuller said a variety of methods would be used. An HIV/AIDS Response Team will oversee the dissemination of the policy in the regions using instructional material in the form of posters and a handbook.
There will also be workshops for Parent Teachers’ Association Presidents, Board Chairpersons, Principals, Guidance Counsellors and Regional Directors. She said it was also hoped to have a number of Japanese volunteers involved to help with the dissemination of the information.
On the matter of peer leaders to effect behavioral change, Ms Fuller said a number of initiatives have been undertaken in this area. Support material prepared by Ashe incorporating the creative arts and the Youth at the Crossroads programme have been aligned to the Health and Family Life programme to encourage creative expression, meaningful interaction and participation. She further indicated that the Health and Family Life Education policy for schools is currently in the process of being reviewed.
In developing the legal framework of the HIV/AIDS Policy for schools, the Attorney General’s Department paid keen attention to balancing the rights of individuals in society, both the affected and the unaffected. Miss Fuller further pointed out that the policy emphasizes maximum confidentiality; it states also that students who might be infected should not be expelled or dismissed as a result of their status.
The Coordinator said the effectiveness of the policy would be judged based on knowledge levels and to evaluate this pre and post tests would be administered. The effectiveness of the policy would also be evaluated based on the management of the disease within the education system by both administrators and educators. She however, pointed out that changes in attitudes present a much greater challenge for monitoring and evaluation.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, Dr. Donald Rhodd, in his remarks, pointed out that the policy was the government’s way of fighting the disease with the hope of ultimately curbing the spread of HIV through the promotion and systematic dissemination of information on the disease through personnel in the education system.
“Information, education and positive communication are the tools of our warfare against this scourge and I believe the Ministry of Education has a critical function in this process. I submit that it is the responsibility of the education sector to promote, encourage and facilitate behaviour change, opinion change and attitudinal change with respect to the disease,” he stated.
Dr. Rhodd noted that current data suggests that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been moving steadily into younger and younger population groups with 83 per cent of the reported cases being in the age groups 15 to 54 years and 50 per cent in the group 25 to 34 years.
He said since it takes five to 10 years for the progression from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV infection) to AIDS it means that the latter group contracted the infection between the ages of 15 and 24 years with females being the more vulnerable group, getting infected four to six times more frequently than their male peers. Meanwhile in the age groups 25 to 44 years AIDS has become the leading cause of death in both males and females.
“This epidemic therefore targets young people, particularly young females,”Dr. Rhodd stated. He pointed out that the Caribbean AIDS crisis has “serious implications for Jamaica’s labour supply and life expectancy as well as for the survival of its orphan citizens.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the region’s economic growth in sectors such as health, education, tourism, agriculture and business is also being threatened.
Dr. Rhodd stressed that “While poverty and inequity have been suggested as major factors in the spread of the disease, HIV/AIDS is itself becoming a threat to the economic growth of small island economies like Jamaica” and serious reductions in productivity can be expected if the infection rates are not controlled.
Turning to estimates from the Health Economic Unit of the University of the West Indies that predicts that in 2005 over six per cent of the gross domestic product in Jamaica could be lost to HIV/AIDS and savings decline by more than 25.3 per cent in that same year, Minister Rhodd said it was against this background coupled with the knowledge of the potential of the country’s youth that the Government has given its full support to the policy. “This is a section of the population that we must reach with the message about HIV/AIDS and the potential damaging effect for the sustainable development of the future Jamaica,” he said.
He pointed out that on a whole HIV/AIDS causes the overall regional economy to suffer in a variety of ways; this is due to higher demand for medical care, premature payments from pension funds and loss of tax revenue among other financial burdens. While noting that there was much more to be done, Dr. Rhodd said through partnerships it was possible to achieve the objectives.
Funding to support the activities in the dissemination of the policy has been obtained from the UNICEF and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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