AIDS-Related Deaths Among South African Teachers Increased 40% Last Year
AIDS-related deaths among South African teachers increased by more than 40% in the last year, according to a report compiled by the South African Democratic Teachers Union and published in the latest issue of the union's newspaper, the Educators' Voice, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reports. One thousand and eleven teachers died of AIDS-related complications such as pneumonia and cryptococcal meningitis between June 2000 and May 2001, according to statistics reported to the funeral scheme of South Africa's largest teachers' union, with 216,000 members. Because doctors cannot legally list AIDS as a cause of death, most of the teachers officially died of AIDS-related opportunistic infections. The average age of the teachers at the time of death was 39. According to the union's first survey, 701 teachers died between August 1999 and May 2000.
'Break the Silence'
The statistics also show that deaths among female primary school teachers outnumbered deaths among men in five of the country's nine provinces. The report cited the "inability of women to insist on the use of condoms" as a factor in their higher death rate. SADTU Media Officer Hassen Lorgat said that the study demonstrated that the teaching profession is "in a crisis," adding that teachers need to "break the silence on HIV." SADTU President Willie Madisha said that the government needs to reevaluate its teacher training programs because many teachers are dying "even before [they] can share their skills" (Govender, Johannesburg Sunday Times, 11/4). "The death of teachers has serious implications for education planning and provisioning ... But challenging a recalcitrant government can only be one part of union strategy. We must do whatever we can to help our members and society at large," the union said in a statement (South African Press Association, 11/4). Kgobati Magome, the Education Department's HIV/AIDS program coordinator, said the department recently discussed decreasing teacher training from four years to two years in light of the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The figures were submitted to the South African Education Department and "accepted as authentic," the Sunday Times reports. Magome said that the figures were "not something that we as a department can run away from," adding that she has "no reason to dispute (the union's) data." The Education Department will launch a program at the end of the month aimed at giving teachers with HIV/AIDS a "supportive environment." The program will also seek to prevent further infections among teachers. "The program's two main objectives are to ensure that those who are negative remain negative and those who are infected are supported and that living with HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. If you remove the stress and secrecy around HIV and live openly about it, you can get the support of your colleagues," Magome said (Johannesburg Sunday Times, 11/4).