AIDS Cuts Teacher Numbers

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Namibian teachers are dying of HIV/AIDS at a growing rate of 10 to 15 persons per trimester and medical projections for the next two years indicate that 600 more of them will be infected. This is what the workshop on AIDS in the workplace learned yesterday from the Namibia National Teachers Union and the National Aids Control Organization. “Something urgent needs to be done to curb the death of teachers from AIDS, currently dying at a rate of between 10 and 15 per trimester countrywide,” Havelinus Shemuketa, Professional Development Coordinator of NANTU told the workshop for senior managers in the Ministry of Education currently on in the capital. Shemuketa was pleading for help to curb the death rate among his union members and on behalf of those belonging to the Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN). “The situation is no better among learners. It is getting out of hand. AIDS education should be urgently incorporated into the curriculum and not as an extra-mural subject. Teachers need to be compelled, be it by official policy or whatever other way, to get more involved in the fight against AIDS. Without such involvement we can forget about winning the fight against AIDS in the education sector,” Shemuketa said. He further informed the gathering that a Ministry of Education initiated movement, My Future, My Choice, has not yielded enough positive results among learners. “The problem is that trainers for instance train only about 60 learners at a school with a learner enrolment of 800. Those 60 learners do not go back and start similar clubs elsewhere because this training is normally done as an extra-mural activity. Learners at all schools need to be compelled to belong to these clubs. Then only will success be achieved,” Shemuketa, who intimated that AIDS workplace programmes are long overdue in schools, warned. The director of the National AIDS Control Organization, Abner Xaogub, in a presentation criticised the Ministry of Education for not implementing sound and well-designed policies for learners and teachers in schools. “The Ministry of Education has all the relevant policies in place. Unfortunately these documents have gathered dust because these policies have never been implemented. I would like to urge the ministry to revisit and upgrade those policies and recommendations because only then will there be a reduction of AIDS cases. It serves no purpose to create new policies if the old ones have not been effectively implemented,” Xaogub said. He also accused NANTU of neglecting to implement an existing five-year workplace AIDS policy. “Parents of children also do not actively participate and engage in the fight against AIDS. This is where the education sector should move in with the AIDS management unit that was established. We should also not become complacent with a 1 percent drop in the numbers of AIDS cases and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. We need to sensitise especially university and secondary school learners on the dangers of AIDS,” he said. Xaogub informed the workshop participants that pathology reports indicate that the infection rate in Namibia is between 10 000 and 15 000 per year. “Presently 18 000 HIV/AIDS patients are being treated, but that does not mean we can relax because people are being treated. We are still not doing things progressively enough to save the lives of more people of which 250 000 are presently infected in the country. Yet, talking about sex to our children is still a taboo, but we expect a decrease in AIDS numbers. Is that the reason why teenage pregnancies in schools are still happening?” he asked. Xaogub informed the participants that his organisation was crucified for and accused of promoting promiscuity by the Church when they promoted the use of condoms. “Look where the HIV/AIDS numbers stand today, an irony isn’t it? And yet the numbers are still increasing at an alarming rate. You as decision makers can make a difference in bringing down the numbers in the education sector,” he told the participants.