Ghanaian teachers in primary and junior secondary schools have received special training to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. Topics relating to the disease have been introduced into the school curriculum in a program spearheaded by the Ghana Education Service. From Accra, reporter Joana Mantey tells us more about the program.
An evening school for children at Kaneshie in Accra, Ghana, is in session. Fifteen pupils from age 8 to 15 years of age are assembled and being taken through their mathematics lesson of the day. The children are not only knowledgeable about figures; they are also receiving regular lessons on HIV/AIDS.
Students made the following comments regarding the disease.
“HIV/AIDS is a serious disease. It is caused by a virus that [causes] AIDS. Our teacher told us to abstain from premarital sex. When the virus gets into you, about three years time before they can see you have AIDS.”
“AIDS is a killer disease and we should abstain from it.”
“We have to stay away from AIDS because AIDS can kill many people. We do not have to have sex with people.”
Anti-AIDS activists say it’s a sign of progress that Ghanaian children feel comfortable talking openly about sex in public, and that teachers are able to lead the way. This, in a country where discussions on reproductive health used to be done in private, away from children.
From 118,000 thousand in 1994, the epidemic rose to 400,000 by 2004; although the trend is now on the decline.
Indeed, children may be a window of hope, if they can be taught how to avoid infection. Many are considered to be at risk following the onset of puberty; they are likely to have more than one partner before marriage. Some with low earning power may become prostitutes; moreover, many girls and women are said to be unsure of how to refuse sex when coerced by a boyfriend or partner. Therefore, the school program acts as a sort of social vaccine to protect them against infection.
Sylvia Baaba Yankey is the Acting Coordinator of the HIV/AIDS Secretariat of the Ministry of Education. She explains the importance of teachers in the method.
"Teachers form a focal point around which children revolve. Therefore when they are trained to disseminate information on AIDS, they inform the whole society through the children who also take the message to their homes and then society at large.”
The program, which was introduced last year, is sponsored by the World Bank and the Danish Fund for International Development. It is now going on in four regions of the country in both urban and rural areas. The children are given manuals for reference. Peer counselors are also trained to work alongside the teachers. Yankey said the peer counselors play a vital role in the delivery of information because some children feel more comfortable talking about certain issues with them.
She says since its introduction, some children have come out with slogans to remind them to preserve their virginity.
She hopes the program will have some impact in changing behavior.
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