In 1989, Jonathan Mann, the first head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Programme on AIDS, addressed the World Congress of the International Federation of Free Teachers' Unions (IFFTU), one of the predecessors of Education International (El). Before hundreds of teacher leaders from all over the world, he spoke on the impact of HIV/AIDS and mapped out what was to be expected in the coming decade. Despite their interest, many teacher trade unionists wondered whether Mr. Mann's words of warning really should be directed to them. Should he not be giving his presentation at a congress of medical doctors?
Fifteen years later, not one El-affiliated teacher organization doubts that educators should be involved in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
All are fully aware that they can and must play a crucial role in the prevention of HIV. This can be accomplished by sharing information with colleagues and students, raising awareness in the community and making skills-based health education an integral part of the curriculum.
Teachers' unions around the globe have adopted resolutions and policies on HIV. They have started disseminating information and made training programmes on the virus part and parcel of their day-to-day work. In the United Republic of Tanzania, the Teachers Union decided that specific attention would be given to HIV and AIDS in all its meetings. Every issue of the monthly magazine of the South African Democratic Teachers Union features articles on HIV/AIDS and contributes to raise the awareness of the 210,000 Union members about the disease.
The education sector, like all other sectors in society, is heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. Teachers in Zambia and elsewhere in southern Africa are dying at a rate faster than those being trained: within the next ten years, one teacher in every five is expected to die. In Zimbabwe, with a teaching force of 108,000, almost one teacher in three lives with the virus. In Africa, teachers report that an ever-increasing number of schoolchildren are orphans, and in Ethiopia alone, there are more than 1 million orphaned children. Teachers also note that an increasing number of their pupils stop attending school because they have to run a household and take care of their younger brothers and sisters.
Education International unions organize millions of teachers, who have the best and largest organized profession worldwide. It is safe to say that teachers unions have members in almost all villages and hamlets--a tremendously fine network by all standards. The 315 national El affiliates also organize 26 million workers from the education sector.
Teachers' organizations have long been identified with one single issue: salary demands and conditions of service. Obviously, these items remain high on their agendas, but many organizations are undergoing change and making a major step forward. They recognize that the focus on salaries and conditions of service alone is too narrow. An increasing number of unions are broadening their scope of action to focus on other issues.
Issues such as education policies, quality of education, the gender gap in education, and the relation between education and the labour market are coming to the force. The new orientation is a challenge to unions to give their input on such key issues as "Education for All" and the future of education systems. And in that context, El affiliates know that they can make a valuable contribution within the school system to the prevention of HIV.
Education International strongly supports and promotes this new orientation. It wants to provide the best service possible to its members, including in the area of HIV and AIDS. To achieve that goal, it had to build new coalitions to get the necessary expertise. On school health and HIV/AIDS prevention, the organization in the last decade has developed a close working relationship with WHO Through WHO, links were established with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Education Development Center and others. …