AIDS in Southern Africa is Undermining Efforts to Enroll All Children in School by 2015, World Bank Report Says
HIV/AIDS is threatening international education efforts because in parts of Africa the epidemic is "killing teachers faster than nations can train them" and impeding students' ability to attend school regularly, according to a World Bank report released yesterday, the New York Times reports. "What we see is ravaged education systems," Don Bundy, the World Bank's leading specialist on education, health and nutrition and lead author of the study, said. Bundy said that HIV/AIDS has resulted in not only a high number of teacher deaths but also a high rate of absenteeism among educators who are either HIV-positive or occupied with caring for family members who have the disease. In addition, the cost of hiring substitutes and providing health coverage for HIV-positive employees has placed a large "financial burden" on African schools. HIV/AIDS has also had a negative impact on student attendance; many children have become infected with HIV, while others are orphaned by the disease, forcing them to leave school to care for younger family members (Schemo, New York Times, 5/8). Among the report's findings:
- More than 30% of teachers in parts of Malawi and Uganda are HIV-positive. Nearly 20% of teachers in Zambia and 12% of teachers in South Africa are HIV-positive.
- In the Central African Republic, 85% of teachers who died between 1996 and 1998 were HIV-positive and died approximately 10 years before they were due to retire.
- In one Kenyan province, 20 to 30 teachers die each month from AIDS-related causes.
Emphasis on Education
The report states that Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic threatens the achievement of the goals outlined in the Education for All initiative, an international effort that aims to enroll all of the children in the world in school by 2015. World Bank President James Wolfensohn stated in a forward to the report, "With more than 113 million children not in school in the poorest countries, this already presents a major challenge. However, HIV/AIDS makes this much greater in those countries where the education system was already struggling to grow, teachers are dying or are too sick to teach." The report notes that of the 55 developing nations that seem unlikely to achieve universal primary school enrollment by 2015, 28 are also among those worst affected by HIV/AIDS (World Bank release, 5/7). The problems posed by a potential shortage of teachers are compounded by the fact that student populations in all but the six countries most affected by the disease continue to grow, leading to a rising demand for educators. Bundy said that the problem facing the education system in Africa is a paradox because education itself is key to preventing HIV transmission, especially among women. He noted that in Zambia in the 1990s, HIV infection rates dropped by nearly 50% among educated women but did not change among women who had not attended school. Bundy said that there was a "window of hope" for children because even in countries with the highest rates of HIV infection, the majority of school-aged children do not have HIV. "[T]here is no reason that these children should ever become infected," Bundy said (BBC News, 5/8). In addition, although HIV has taken a toll among educators, infection rates among teachers and other professionals have been dropping in recent years as people become more aware of the epidemic (New York Times, 5/8). The entire World Bank report is available online.