HIV/AIDS in schools

Displaying the AIDS ribbon
Displaying the AIDS ribbon (Photo credit: Anna Shvets)

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are so prevalent in Jamaica that it is number six on a list of 50 leading causes of death in Jamaica. This high prevalence means HIV/AIDS is not limited to adults and as such high school students should be cognizant of the facts. 

HIV is a virus that assaults the immune system and if left untreated it leads to a more aggressive form of HIV called AIDS. There are three ways one can catch HIV/AIDS, either through birth where from the mother to the child, through blood transfusion or through sexual intercourse without using protection. This information is no secret as a research done by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) proves that 33 per cent of young people ages 15-20 know how HIV/AIDS is contracted.

Following research done by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 10 years ago, it was recommended that school health and safety in regard to HIV should be linked to the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) subject. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture (MOEYC) has now successfully included a more theoretical approach in teaching students about HIV/AIDS. Since 2018, MOE has introduced HFLE teachers to at least 84 per cent of secondary schools in Jamaica

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture responsibility within schools is to ensure a proper policy that covers all aspects of students living with HIV/AIDS. A nurse from a public hospital says teenagers generally contract the virus through sexual intercourse. The nurse went on to say that in her five years of being at a particular high school a student has never come to her about having HIV/AIDS. “I have recognized that even if there are students in school with the virus maybe they don’t feel like their information would remain confidential,” said the nurse.

Teachers of HFLE are responsible for teaching the students about HIV/AIDS as they were trained for the task by the Ministry of Education. However, the nurse said “there are counseling programs at the hospital for HIV/AIDS patients but at the school I was placed at I did not see any.” UNESCO has recommended that there should be health programmes that include nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and health seeking behaviours. So far, the MOE has trained a number of HFLE teachers. 

In regard to health seeking behaviours, a retired registered nurse said from experience when she had treated a teenager with the virus at the hospital, the teenager was out for revenge. The nurse highlighted that it could have been a case about “sex trafficking and the teenager planned that she was going to pass it on to as many [people] as possible. Sometimes some are in denial,” said the nurse. The nurse recalled a case in which a student was raped by a family member and contracted the virus from them. In cases like these schools need to be fully informed and prepared to help these students without discrimination.

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