Sunday, May 3, 2009

Youth HIV Education In Cameroon Colleges

By James Achanyi-Fontem
Cameroon Link
Yvonne Fonduh Bekeny has published her findings on HIV/AIDS education in secondary schools in Cameroon within the frame work of a study of Government Bilingual High Schools in the capital city of Yaoundé. Yvonne has a master’s degree in development and international cooperation from the UNIVERSITY OF JYVÄSKYLÄ, (Department of Education Sciences) Finland.
The study describes secondary school students’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviour in relation to HIV/AIDS and compares these aspects in two Government Bilingual High Schools in Yaoundé-Cameroon. One school ran a formal HIV/AIDS education programme and the other did not. Factors influencing students’ attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) and their trusted sources of HIV/AIDS knowledge were examined.
618 students participated in the survey with ages ranged from 10 to 25 and the average age was 15. The data was collected in November 2008 and findings indicated that students in the two schools are quite knowledgeable about modes of HIV prevention and transmission, while more students in the intervention school are conversant with facts.
There were no differences in attitudes towards PLHIV observed in both schools. Students of the intervention school reported more positive attitudes towards condoms than those of the no-intervention school. Girls demonstrated more discrimination towards PLHIV than boys and religion has an impact on attitudes toward PLHIV.
Students trusted doctors/nurses, parents and teachers as important sources of HIV/AIDS knowledge. The research showed that HIV/AIDS interventions actually impact moderate behaviour changes, but there is weak correlation between HIV/AIDS education and attitudes towards PLHIV.
This calls for vigorous input into the formal HIV/AIDS intervention, targeting specific behavioural aspects and perhaps qualitative approaches to understanding the drivers of students’ attitudes. Yvonne Fonduh Bekeny suggests that parents should be more involved in the process of HIV/AIDS education as well.
Since its discovery, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has spread more rapidly than most diseases in recent history, having social-cultural, economical and moral repercussions on individuals, families, communities and threatening foundations of entire societies. Over the years, the link between HIV/AIDS and impoverishment has grown and even stronger as the disease is infecting and affecting the younger generation who are the productive labour force of every economy. An estimated 11.8 million young people aged 15–24 are living with HIV/AIDS, and half of all new infections, over 6,000 daily, are occurring among them (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, 2003).
Africa is still the highest hit region with 63% of global infections and the highest prevalence among the age group 15-49 (UNAIDS, 2003). The international community has come to acknowledge that HIV/AIDS is not only a health problem. It is a developmental disaster of alarming proportions which will affect development goals at the human, financial and material levels.
In Cameroon, the prevalence has generally been stagnating and the WHO (2005) observes that young people in Cameroon are highly affected. Indeed, a third of Cameroonians infected are 15-29 years of age. This age group constitutes all Cameroonians who are in secondary school, high school, University, vocational schools, professional schools and those in active service. Cameroon has a population of about 18,175.000 million, (WHO Cameroon, 2009).
According to UNAIDS (2008), HIV adult prevalence stands at 5,5%. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) is 543,295. The number of infections for those aged 15-24 years is 3,2%, 44.813 children aged 0-14 are living with HIV and children orphaned by AIDS related diseases amount to 305,000. Deaths related to AIDS infections are 43,632.
In their article, Mbanya, Martyn & Paul (2008) state that the socio-economic impact of the disease is profound with growing numbers of sectors being affected, and high hospital bed occupancy rampant. They add that this results in overstretched medical personnel and extra burden to the health and education sectors where school teachers are reported to be unproductive
on several counts and morbidity increasing from opportunistic infections. This of course, poses a major challenge to the socio-economic development of the country considering the fact that the age group below 15 makes up about 42% of the entire population (Population Reference Bureau, 2009).
Although the government of Cameroon has been quite committed in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially in the domain of providing Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs and care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS, it has been observed that prevalence among the 15-24 years old is staggering, and they still remain the highest risk group in Cameroon.
Children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS are more likely to drop out of school at some point in time. The entire school systems are themselves affected by HIV/AIDS, 95% of HIV positive teachers have difficulties with punctuality in school and 73% of them affirm that they have to stop lessons from time to time when they are not physically fit. Up to 67% of students living with HIV face similar problems. (UNESCO Cameroon, 2007). These circumstances make it difficult for students to have a decent education.
The Paranoid situation created by this pandemic is putting the entire educational systems and the society at large under pressure. The education system must be supported through prevention, for education is the major driver of economic and social development. Indeed, countries education sectors have a strong potential to make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS (Bundy 2002). Prevention and coping strategies can only be ensured through education for it is a reality that with the present state of scientific knowledge and development, the only protection available to society is through education (Kelly, 2004).
The youth were the focus of this study because they are the future driving force of the economy and their well being will improve every aspect of the nation’s development, including demographic aspects such as life expectancy, which is currently at 50 years (UNDP, 2008). During my years as a teacher, I realized that most students infected or orphaned by AIDS related causes, could not afford school requirements and they were also under a lot of psychological pressure as a result of stigma and discrimination. Consequently, some students who were infected and affected were perpetual absentees because of the social effects, exclusion, anxieties and impoverishment perpetrated by the AIDS epidemic.
These experiences have moved me to research on HIV/AIDS education and its relevance to secondary school students as one means to disenable the vicious cycle of trauma, impoverishment and disease stimulated by HIV/AIDS. This is an attempt to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the students in particular and on the educational system in general. It is also important because
halting the spread of HIV is not only a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching other MDGs (UNESCO, 2006). Thus, if Cameroon is to achieve Education for All (EFA) and other MDGs by 2015, education at this stage must incorporate# aspects of HIV/AIDS. The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) has observed that education
can have a dramatic effect on the health of a nation. Girls and boys who complete primary school are 50% less likely to be infected with HIV, implying that 7 million cases of HIV could be prevented in a decade by the achievement of EFA (GCE, 2007).
The UNAIDS Cameroon (2008) country report concludes that there is less emphasis on national prevention programmes and much attention is focused on treatment and care of PLHIV. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPE) indicates that HIV/AIDS is still a problem in Cameroon especially for young women and girls. They further that stigma and discrimination is a distinct problem in Cameroon (IPPF, 2007). This issue is emphasized by Njechu (2008) who reports that the non-collection of HIV results after screening has been blamed for the increase in HIV incidences in Cameroon. His report was based on information from the Yaoundé based Institute of Behavioural Research (IRESCO) who warned that only 7% of young people aged 15-24 who went for voluntary testing collected their results.
The research revealed that many who did the screening test and failed to collect their results either feared stigmatization or imminent death if they were HIV positive. The research also stated that only a few Cameroonians within this age group go in for voluntary testing.
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