World AIDS Day: Education is key to ending epidemic by 2030

Education has a vital role to play if the world is to bring an end to the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The United Nations agency UNESCO’s slogan for World AIDS Day today is Close The Gap: Start With Education. Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is possible – but only by preventing new infections among young people, supporting testing, treatment and care, and reducing stigma and discrimination within the school environment.

UNESCO says the education sector can help to achieve those goals. It has been involved in a number of activities and programmes this year – including providing technical support on sex education to education ministries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Central Asia Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia-Pacific. Its teams also worked with civil society and the private sector to increase the impact and efficiency of a coordinated HIV response. 

Closing the gap means empowering and enabling all people, everywhere, to access the services they need.

  • By closing the HIV testing gap, the 19 million people who are unaware of their HIV-positive status can begin to get support.
  • By closing the treatment gap, all 35 million people living with HIV will have access to life-saving medicine.
  • By closing the gap in access to medicines for children, all children living with HIV will be able to access treatment, not just the 24% who have access today.

According to UNICEF statistics, AIDS remains the number one cause of death among adolescents in Africa,and the second cause worldwide – and a disproportionate number are girls.

Educational International, which represents teachers and education employees across the world, said: “Study after study shows that education plays a significant role in not only reducing the cases of HIV – but in helping remove the stigma and discrimination that is so often placed upon those living with the virus.

“By ensuring that all girls receive a quality education, studies reveal that HIV rates, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, dramatically decline. Falling infection rates in Zimbabwe, for example, have been directly attributed to the increase of women, 75% overall, aged 15 to 24 who had completed lower secondary school.”

World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.

At the end of 2013 there were an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, of which 2.1 million were infected in the past year and four million were young people. New HIV infections have declined by 38% since 2001 and the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) accessing antiretroviral therapy is increasing.

UNESCO Director-General Irine Bokova said: “”As one of six founding co-sponsors of UNAIDS, UNESCO has been working for over two decades to support countries in strengthening the education sector response to HIV and AIDS, to provide young people with gender-sensitive, age-appropriate education about their sexual and reproductive health.

“We can take considerable pride in the progress achieved across the world in response to AIDS, and this gives us encouragement to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. However, caution is required along with confidence — if the HIV epidemic can end within a generation, it can also resurge within a generation, if we fail to keep up and expand the actions proven to get ahead of it.”

You can catch up on Twitter coverage of World AIDS Day events around the world.

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