World AIDS Day: Female teachers still bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS

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World AIDS Day
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Thabo Mohlala

As the world commemorates World AIDS Day on Friday, there are concerns within the education sector that female teachers seem to be at the receiving of the pandemic than their male counterpart.

Young female teachers who have just entered the profession recorded a worrying high prevalence of HIV, said Nomusa Cembi, spokesperson for the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

Cembi said this reflects the enduring dominance of the patriarchal value system that inherently marginalises women. “Young female teachers still bear the brunt of the disease and this is really disturbing. This is directly linked to patriarchy which today manifests itself in the form of “blessers” where elderly men entice young girls with material benefits. It means we still need to do more to increase awareness and educate young women about the dangers of relying on men for their material well-being,” Cembi said.

A recent study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), titled: ‘The Health of Educators in Public Schools in South Africa/2016, confirms this view. The study was a sequel to the “Health of Our Educators”, which formed part of the HSRC’s eight research reports published in 2005.

National Teachers Union (Natu)’s Alan Thompson said there was some significant progress since the HSRC report but added that a lot still needs to be done. He said about five years ago they used to lose between 40-50 members a month to HIV/AIDS related diseases, adding the numbers have decline markedly to 10-15 a month.

He said the reduction of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS can be attributed to the funding they used to get mainly from foreign donors to educate teachers across the board. “But since the funding stopped we have not been able to continue with the campaign,” said Thompson. He said although there is an increasing level of awareness among teachers about the HIV/AIDS, there are still teachers who do not avail themselves for testing.

According to the HSRC report, a comparison of the HIV/AIDS prevalence between female and male teachers in 2004 was at 12.7% but in 2015 for females it shot up to 16.4%, while male teachers recorded a marginal increase of 1%, making it 12.8%.

Some of the findings were stark; while it put HIV prevalence among teachers at 12.7%, which is comparable to that found in the general population, it also highlighted high “morbidity” associated with AIDS and high levels of teacher absenteeism directly linked to HIV-related illness. KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga showed high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS.

The department of basic education launched its “Integrated Strategy on HIV, STIs and TB” in 2013 to mitigate the impact of the virus on teachers and learners and also aligned it to the country’s vision and the global thinking. It also introduced ‘HIV and AIDS Life Skills Education Programme’, which is taught as part of Life Orientation with some components of it integrated in other subjects.

Since 2005 research, the rate of HIV among teachers has increased to 1.2% compared to the national average of 0.84%, noted the report. While the Western Cape province still remains the lowest, it experienced an increase of 2.3% since the earlier survey.

In 2015 HIV prevalence of male teachers within the 35-39 age brackets was pecked at 22.9% compared to 16.6% in 2005. The HIV prevalence of female teachers, also within 30-34 age groups, remained at 24.2% in both 2005 and 2015.

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