November 30, 2012 - Millwood, VA — Life skills education in Namibia is a crucial component of the country's efforts to shield students from HIV/AIDS and could potentially save lives and improve the future of youth nationwide, says global NGO Project HOPE on World AIDS Day.
Namibia has one of the highest burdens of HIV/AIDS in the world. HIV infection among people aged 15-49 was estimated to be 13.5 percent in 2010, and there were about 25 new infections each day. While approximately 40% of new infections in Namibia were among young people aged 15-24, 60 percent of them were among young women.
"There is a need for effective HIV/AIDS prevention messages at all levels of the education system," said Steve Neri, Project HOPE's Regional Director for Africa.
Project HOPE, a global health education and humanitarian assistance organization, was recently awarded over $663,000 by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to help the Namibian Ministry of Education improve its response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. The MCC is an innovative and independent U.S. foreign aid agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty. Project HOPE is partnering with Creative Associates International, a US-based nonprofit organization, and Legal Assistance Center, a Namibian nongovernmental organization, in these efforts.
Life skills teachers are being appointed to teach a wide range of skills to foster informed attitudes about HIV/AIDS and critical thinking to help Namibia's youth protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.
"It's important that all school age children develop knowledge and skills to make informed choices on issues of health, especially sexual health, including how to avoid or change risky behaviors," said Geoffrey Shakwa, Team Leader for the MCC Project. "I believe the Ministry of Education's life skills curriculum is vital if we are to reach, and ultimately protect, the country's most vulnerable - young people."
But, says Shakwa, the teachers need help too. It is estimated that one in seven Namibian educators were infected with HIV in 2002. Teacher absenteeism in Namibia is mostly due to chronic sick leave - 46 percent of all leave taken was due to health issues related to HIV/AIDS and 31percent of all leave was due to absence that occurred when teachers attended the funerals of victims of the disease.
Project HOPE and its partners will assist the Ministry of Education to develop effective training materials that include strong prevention messaging, and guidelines about matters related to teachers who are infected with HIV, particularly how to address the stigma and discrimination suffered by HIV-infected teachers.
Other HOPE programs in Namibia include a partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services in support of tuberculosis control and an effort to improve the well-being of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in partnership with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
In Mozambique, Project HOPE has implemented a program to assist AIDS orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The program aims to strengthen the ability of families and communities to care for these vulnerable children. The program addresses the increased economic needs of an OVC household by providing economic strengthening opportunities, micro-credit loans or savings groups, along with health and parenting education. In Malawi, HOPE has focused on health education to increase awareness of Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. HOPE has trained TB clinicians and nurses and its programs have increased access to TB screening and testing for HIV positive patients.