How HIV/Aids hits schoolchildren
Johannesburg - Chronic fatigue, erratic school attendance and learning difficulties as a result of ill health are some of the issues schoolchildren affected by HIV and Aids and tuberculosis have to grapple with.
This is according to the Department of Basic Education’s draft policy on HIV and Aids, sexually transmitted infections and TB, which was recently published for public comment.
The draft policy document, which is being developed to provide a guide on how HIV and Aids and TB programmes should be implemented within the basic education sector, spells out how teachers and pupils are impacted.
It says KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga have the highest number of people living with HIV, and the provinces also have the highest number of teachers living with the virus.
“Educators living in rural areas and working in rural schools have higher HIV prevalence than their urban counterparts,” the draft policy says.
On infection rates among pupils, the document says even though data suggests that there’s a decline in HIV infection among children aged between two and 14 years and youths between 15 and 24, girls “still carry the disproportionate burden of HIV” that spikes as they move from adolescence into young adulthood.
Of particular concern for researchers are orphans and vulnerable children.
“One of the most devastating impacts of the HIV/Aids epidemic in South Africa is the increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children, although it is acknowledged that there are other causes of orphanhood.
“Research suggests that orphans and children in Aids-sick homes may be at greater risk of HIV infection. They also experience more depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, conduct problems, poor peer attachments, and somatic complaints than non-orphans,” it adds.
“In addition, in HIV-affected families, young people are more at risk of TB infection, as well as negative health and psychological outcomes, such as physical and emotional abuse.
“The educational impacts identified (among) these children include missing and dropping out of school, hunger at school due to household poverty, and difficulty concentrating.”
The draft policy says research by the department shows that less than half of Grade 1s will reach Grade 12, and although HIV and TB contribute to pupils leaving school early, there are a host of interlinked reasons why children drop out.
Dropping out of school “is rarely caused by a single event in a learner’s life and is often a culmination of many interrelated factors, which include both in-school and out-of-school factors.
“Out-of-school factors such as living in an isolated community, being eligible for but unable to access social welfare grants, not living with biological parents, orphanhood and disability increase a learner’s vulnerability to dropping out of school.
“In addition, teenage pregnancy and substance abuse, combined with lack of stimulation and support from educators and other school staff, can cause learners to disengage from school and eventually drop out,” the report states.
The policy says the full impact of HIV/Aids and TB on the education system may not be accurately measurable, but it will be felt in the future.
“In South Africa, where the HIV infection rate may still not have peaked, the number of orphans may well continue to rise until 2020.
“This will pose new challenges for the education system that will have to confront a new generation of educationally disenfranchised children that the system has not been able to integrate in the past.”
The draft policy says school infrastructure and human resources are key to managing and providing care and support for pupils and staff affected by HIV and TB.
“Schools represent an existing network of many components including staff, learners, their caregivers, school governing bodies (SGBs) and the broader school community. Each component is a potentially valuable resource for care and support.”
The importance of school infrastructure in managing HIV and TB in the schooling environment was also raised by the Desmond Tutu HIV/Aids Foundation in January this year in its responding submission to the draft policy on norms and standards for public schools norms and standards.
Among other things, the foundation warned of the spread of TB in schools as a result of overcrowding.
NGO Section27’s attorney, Nikki Stein, says that as much as schools are obliged by law to provide academic and psychological support to pupils affected by HIV/Aids, TB and other illnesses, in many cases, schools can’t provide this, for various reasons.
For example, on managing HIV/Aids, Stein says that in many schools it’s not possible for pupils to do voluntary testing, and they don’t have access to condoms at the school premises.
Stein says such policies are set by the SGB, and they are the “gatekeepers” when it comes to rolling out these services in schools.
She says the fact that the SGB, which is made up of parents, teachers and the community, will have access to information about the pupils is problematic because information about them would be accessible to their parents.
“Pupils wouldn’t want that, and they end up being denied services which they clearly need,” Stein adds. - The Star
* The draft policy document is available at www.education.gov.za.
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