Aids takes terrible toll of teachers

6th October 2000 at 01:00

The pandemic sweeping the country is killing staff faster than they can be trained, reports Karen MacGregor.

TEACHERS are dying faster than they can be trained in South Africa as the government struggles to fight the Aids pandemic which is crippling the country.

In Natal province, 30,000 of the 80,000 teachers are expected to die within the next seven years.

A report for the United Nations predicts that between 30 and 40 per cent of teachers, children and officials will become infected, with the government unable to bear the financial cost.

Brenda Gouley, of Natal University, told a conference in Glasgow that her university is training 388 teachers, but 10,000 will be needed to replace those who'll die.

Schools are not helped by the government's prevarication on the causes of Aids - President Thabo Mbeki insists that HIV is not the only cause of Aids. Already as many as one in five pupils is infected in some provinces and, according to UN figures, there will be 3.6 to 4.8 million orphaned children in South Africa by 2015.

By the end of next year, it is predicted that the death-rate among teachers will outstrip recruitment. Staff report that increasing numbers of colleagues are taking long periods off sick, and many are dying. Aids is not always admitted as the cause of death, even of it was the underlying reason.

"The impact of Aids on eucation is going to be substantial," says Dave Bart, acting president of the National Association of Teachers Associations.

"Providing pupils and teachers with information is not the answer on its own. We are pushing for Aids education to be incorporated into all curricula across the whole sector and in all aspects of education."

He says South Africa needs to adapt to cope with the effects of Aids. Orphaned pupils who have to work and care for siblings are going to have to be catered for in different ways.

More than four million South Africans are HIV positive. Most are in their twenties or thirties. Three in five became infected before they turned 25 and more than half will die of Aids before they reach 35, according to LoveLife, a charitable Aids-awareness campaign for teenagers.

South Africans typically start having sex at 14. They avoid condoms, have multiple partners and are reluctant to test for HIV. More than a third of babies are born to mothers under 18.

This year, the education department released an HIV-Aids booklet providing guidelines for teachers and it has made sex education part of life skills learning.

Education minister Kader Asmal said South Africa has "finally made schools the vanguard of education against this pandemic". He has convened a workshop in Port Elizabeth this week intended to look at how to tackle the looming disaster.

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