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HIV/AIDS Killed 4,000 South African Educators in 2004

In South Africa, a new survey shows thousands of teachers died of HIV/AIDS last year and tens of thousands are infected with the AIDS virus. The survey was conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council.

Dr. Olive Shisana is the executive director of the Council’s National Research Program on HIV/AIDS and Health. From Cape Town, she told English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua, “We found that 4,000 educators died in 2004 and 80 percent of those were under 45 years of age. Insofar as HIV prevalence is concerned, we found 12.7 percent of educators to be HIV positive at the time that we studied. And that’s roughly 45,000 educators out of a population of about 356,000.”

This is the first time such a large study was done of educators in South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal province had the highest prevalence rate of HIV among teachers, nearly 22 percent. Mpumalanga was second, with a rate of just over 19 percent. Eastern Cape was third, with a prevalence rate of nearly 14 percent.

Dr. Shisana says, “The level of awareness is pretty high in general. It’s high, but awareness does not always translate into behavior change. One needs an environment that is conducive to doing that. And one of the problems that we experienced is that educators who are appointed in urban areas, they are asked to take jobs in rural areas. And often when they leave they do not leave with their families. They leave their families behind. And regardless of the knowledge that the person has if the environment itself is not socially supportive…the chances of engaging in risky behavior is much greater.”

The survey found that a good predictor of HIV infection is mobility. She says, “Those educators who were away from their homes for overnight, you know, like six days in a week, had an HIV prevalence of 27 percent compared to 8 percent if they never left their homes.”

The Human Science Research Council official says if the issue is not addressed now, there could be a “massive problem” in ten years. That’s because many young teachers are dying and many older teachers are retiring.

The Council recommends a comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention program in areas with the highest prevalence rates. Secondly, it recommends placing teachers in areas where they live instead of transferring them long distances. And third, it recommends giving anti-retroviral therapy to the 10,000 educators who currently meet the treatment criteria.