Fri, 01 Dec 2000

Are schools ready to accept HIV?

JAKARTA (JP): "We will address AIDS prevention activities in schools, but we will leave it to NGOs and other organizations to address the problems arising from infection by HIV."

This was a recent comment by an official from the Ministry of National Education.

While at first glance, this would appear to be a reasonable policy, there is in fact a most important role that schools can play in responding to infection among students; and teachers. As HIV infections start to rise sharply in Indonesia, including among the young, it becomes more and more likely that schools and colleges will experience the presence of students with HIV. Are they ready to accept this? What will be the reaction of staff, other students and parents to such news? Will an uninformed response result in calls for segregation of the infected student, or isolation by former schoolmates?

Such responses are usually triggered by fear, resulting from lack of information about how HIV is -- and is not -- transmitted. Unfortunately, this fear is sometimes intentionally generated during HIV prevention activities. In fact, transmission of HIV is most unlikely to occur in a school environment.

During our World AIDS Day activities, let us be sure that we breakdown this fear, and that we do not generate the impression that "good people don't get AIDS". Such messages will make it much more difficult for those who know they are infected to disclose this, and for those who feel they may have been involved in risky activities to come forward for testing.

It is to the benefit of all to generate an environment in our schools and colleges -- and in all areas of our daily lives -- which is supportive of people with HIV/AIDS. Not only will this protect the rights of these individuals; it may also persuade them to act as peer educators in a subject they are uniquely qualified to discuss.

--Chris W. Green