HIV/AIDS Presents ‘Profound Threat’ to South African Education System, Study Says
South Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic is killing students and teachers and is "dramatically reducing" school enrollment, threatening the entire education system, USA Today reports. A recent University of Natal study found that 275,000 school-aged students in KwaZulu-Natal province -- a region of South Africa where one in three adults is HIV-positive -- are not attending school. Since 1998, enrollment in first grade has dropped 60%, and the decline is even more dramatic for girls, "suggesting a growing gender imbalance in the system after years of near equity." Sick or dying parents often "never bother to enter their kids in school," the report said, adding that those who are enrolled in school often leave before graduation to "care for dying parents and later, siblings." In addition to the drop in numbers of students, the study reported that 85% of schools in the province have reported the death of teachers "presumably" from AIDS-related illnesses. As many as 70,000 new teachers, often drawn from a less experienced and younger population with "even higher HIV infection rates," will be needed in the province over the next 10 years, as AIDS deaths among teachers are expected to rise "dramatically." As schools lose students and teachers, the already financially strained school systems are experiencing a "financial crisis." The "poverty-stricken" community, which was poor before AIDS arrived, is even poorer now, making many people unable to pay the school fees, on time or at all, which fund teacher salaries and school maintenance. "The education system is under a profound threat. We're seeing a decline in the quality of education. And the productivity and potential of the country will be negatively affected," Peter Badcock-Walters, the report's author, concluded (Singer, USA Today, 1/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.