AIDS toll among teachers: a challenge for Namibia

Education has been identified as one of the principal means of Namibia’s socio-economic development.
Since Independence, the government has made remarkable strides towards attaining education for all, through its goals of access, quality, equity, democracy and efficiency.
The focus of the sector for the past two decades has been particularly on improving access and participation and building capacity throughout the education sector.
But the HIV/AIDS pandemic has presented a major challenge to the Namibian government and key partners of the education system.
HIV/AIDS impacts learning opportunities and education systems in a myriad of ways.
It threatens the development of education, through sickness and demise of policy makers, teachers and administrators and through damage to the resource base.
Evidence has suggested that teachers are among the professional groups considered most at risk of HIV/AIDS.
Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a sharp increase in the mortality rates of teachers.
The scourge is said to be killing teachers at a faster pace in the region, which is a big blow to hundreds of thousands of school learners who aspire for better future through education.
A World Bank report estimates that 122 000 teachers in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV, the vast majority of whom have not sought testing and do not know their HIV status.
An estimated 860 000 children have lost their teachers to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in 1999, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO.)
HIV/AIDS is also transforming the structure of the education system in Namibia, where a staggering large number of teachers is reportedly dying of the disease annually.
During the Hardap Education Conference recently, an official of Namibia’s Ministry of Education HIV/AIDS Management Unit revealed that close to 1 000 school teachers die of AIDS every year.
Statistics from the HIV/AIDS Management Unit claims that 580 teachers have already succumbed to HIV/AIDS this year, while estimates indicate that more than a fifth of the 20 000 teachers in Namibia are HIV/AIDS infected.
Apart from the devastating psychological effect of illness and death among teachers and pupils, the long-term structural effects of AIDS on education systems are dire, according to UNESCO.
“As AIDS continues to take its toll, there will be schools with no headteachers and inspectors,” a study by UNICEF points out. “This has a negative impact on the education system’s ability to plan, manage and implement policies and programmes.”
Information from the Ministry of Education’s HIV/AIDS Management Unit is an indication that the pandemic is having a devastating effect on the already inadequate supply of teachers in Namibia.
From observation, teachers who are affected by HIV/AIDS in most cases take time off work.
Others take leave from work to take care of sick relatives and attend funerals of those who would have succumbed.
And with the acute shortage of teachers in the country, especially in rural areas, many learners are left untaught.
Many a times, you hear on radio schools advertising posts for relief teachers ‑ to replace losses.
Most schools have difficulty funding relief teachers, as they cannot afford to pay for them.
These alarming figures show that HIV/AIDS has become a big threat to the lives of Namibian teachers, and must serve as a caution to change their sexual behaviours.
On the other hand, education stakeholders such as teachers’ unions need to put strategies in place ‑ to use platforms such as World Teachers Day to educate their members about the dangers of the pandemic.
Namibia National Teachers Union (NANTU) has in place an HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy, which seeks to provide a supportive environment to minimise the social, economic and developmental consequences of the pandemic on its members.
However, the ever-increasing incidence of HIV among teachers means that education stakeholders, including NANTU and the Ministry of Education, need to go back to the drawing board.
Statistics from the HIV/AIDS Management Unit indicate that the message is not reaching the intended targets.
Information from the unit indicates that the spread of the virus among teachers has been relentless ‑ from 10 infected teachers in 1995, to 500 in 2005 to the present annual death rate of close to 1 000.

July 2013
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