Windhoek — Despite the numerous information dissemination drives and campaigns to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, very little in terms of behavioural change can be observed among Namibians.
This was the general sentiment when the Ministry of Education commemorated World AIDS Day during the period December 5-7 last week under the theme - "Getting to Zero". It also came to light that in 2007, 70 percent of teacher absenteeism was attributed to sick leave, which has a negative impact on the education sector.
According to the Director of Programme Quality Assurance at the Ministry of Education, Edda Bohn, education can be the most powerful force in combating the spread of HIV and AIDS, however the epidemic can weaken an education system's ability to function.
"Teachers and other educators are dying in increasing numbers and at comparatively young ages, it taking time before they can be replaced. This affects the ability to supply education of good quality. Teachers who are ill are often absent and there is nobody to take over the affected classes. Rural posting of teachers is becoming more difficult because teachers who are ill want to be near health facilities," she said.
The major outcomes of the education system are threatened by frequent teacher and learner absenteeism; dropping out of school; concern for the sick at home, which interferes with the ability to concentrate on teaching and learning; repeated occasions of mourning in schools, families and communities, as well as unhappiness and fear of stigmatization on the part of teachers and learners who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, according to Bohn.
With approximately 60 000 employees and engaging about 650 000 learners, the education sector has an immense responsibility to ensure the preservation of its human capital if national and international development targets such as the Millennium Development Goals are to be met, according to Bohn.
"Given the current national prevalence rate of 18.8 percent, concerted measures need to be put in place to invest in HIV prevention, care, support and impact mitigation programmes within the workplace and learning institutions to address the socio-economic impacts currently being felt through reduced service delivery. If this scenario is allowed to continue, it will have an adverse effect on productivity and delivery on the core mandate of the education sector, which will in turn affect the targets set in NDP4 and Vision 2030," she explained.
As a result, policies and strategies have been put in place, of which the first to be developed was the National HIV and AIDS Policy for the education sector in 2003. The HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy for the education sector was developed in 2007, while the strategic plan for the Workplace Wellness Programme was developed in 2006.
A relief teacher strategy drafted in 2008 has now been printed and is expected to be launched today. "The challenges that we are facing are the implementation of the existing policies and the mainstreaming of HIV and AIDS in all our daily routines," said Bohn.
There is a need to integrate in the curriculum campaigns such as My Future Is My Choice and Window of Hope that are geared to empowering learners, according to Bohn.