Aids takes toll of schoolgirls;Briefing;International

AFRICA. AFRICAN countries are being urged to step up Aids awareness campaigns in schools.

Women educationists have begged the Organisation for African Unity to tackle the problem. They are particularly worried by figures showing that teenage girls are the disease's main victims.

More than 700,000 15 to 24-year-olds die each year from Aids in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a United Nations' Children's Fund report.

This accounts for half the Aids deaths in the region, says UNICEF, and the majority of the victims were teenage schoolgirls.

Aids is undermining girls' learning, delegates attending the Forum for African Women Educationists' general assembly in Nairobi in late July were told.

UNICEF representatives called on governments to embark on public education campaigns, sex education in schools and support HIV testing, and counselling.

Genett Zewide, the forum's chairperson and Ethiopia's education minister, said many girls dropped out of school as a result of being orphaned by the disease. By next year, she said, there will be 10 million Aids orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa and most of them will be under 15.

In Uganda, 11 per cent of children under 15 are orphans. Figures in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi are 9, 7 and 6 per cent respectively.

Eddah Gachukia, the forum's director, said one of the worst aspects of Aids pandemic is the prejudice and neglect suffered by orphans. "Children, particularly girls, are left shouldering adult responsibilities such as caring for the sick, for younger siblings and working in exploitative situations that eventually force them to drop out of school," she said.

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