With more than 12 million learners in 24 000 schools, more than 400 000 teachers, and thousands of other personnel nationwide, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has an immense responsibility – to curb the spread of HIV infection and address its impact amongst its constituencies. The department has developed a draft document setting out the proposed policy direction for HIV and TB.
“It is crucial to have a specific policy focusing on prevention, treatment and care and support for HIV and TB in the school system,” says Dr Faith Kumalo, Chief Director for Care and Support in Schools at the Department of Basic Education. “Our approach to HIV and TB is from a management perspective. These infections affect the efficiency of the sector by temporarily or permanently depleting learning and teaching staff, as morbidity often causes some to be absent from school for extended periods of time and others die as a result of illness. We do realise that HIV and TB is not only a health or a public health issue anymore. All of us have to do something.”
According to the department’s 2011 Annual National School Survey, just over two million (2 000 675) children in schools had lost a parent, in most cases to HIV. These children are likely to have additional care and support needs that must be catered for in the schooling system. The document thus proposes means to deal with orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as those with special education needs.
The draft also proposes that access to male and female condoms be introduced in schools. To date, this has been a hotly debated issue.
Kumalo says: “The goal of the policy is to increase the knowledge and skills of learners, educators, school support staff and officials in dealing with infection and to improve access to services through improved coordination and mainstreaming. In this way, we hope to retain learners and staff in the system. Our guiding principle is that no learner shall be denied their right to education due to their HIV or TB status, whether true or perceived.
“The policy seeks to cater for access to counselling, treatment and support; access to information; the guarantee of equity and protection from stigma and discrimination; fair labour practices; gender sensitivity and responsiveness; and a reasonable approach to address issues such as absence because of ill health or the need to go to a health facility to access services.”
A legislative process, including a call for public comment, will unfold in 2014 before the draft can be made policy. Once formulated into policy it will apply not only to government schools, but to independent schools as well.