African academia ravaged by Aids

November 12, 1999

Deaths of academics from Aids are wiping out key areas of specialist knowledge in African universities in an epidemic that threatens to stifle regional development, Commonwealth leaders meeting in South Africa were warned this week.

Academics from around the world urged the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to tackle urgently an HIV-Aids epidemic that "threatens to decimate" higher education.

University of Botswana: 20 students and 40 staff dead in the past two years. Of 119 students visiting a campus clinic for sexually transmitted diseases in the past two years, 42 tested HIV positive. University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: 40 students and 106 staff have died.

University of Durban-Westville: 23 per cent of first-year students tested HIV-positive this year, twice as many women as men.

In a communique to CHOGM, Commonwealth university and health sector leaders said the heavy loss of people educated at great expense in higher education institutions was of grave concern. "If this critical situation is ignored, tertiary institutions will not be able to continue to provide the human resources and intellectual leadership upon which national development depends."

More than 60 per cent of the 34 million people worldwide with the HIV-Aids virus are in Africa. In South Africa nearly one in five adults is now thought to be HIV positive and 1,600 new infections are occurring daily.

Aids is not only an issue for Africa, a seminar organised by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the University of Natal and the Commonwealth Medical Association was told. Universities in Britain, Canada and Australia, which recruit large numbers of foreign students, will have to consider whether to introduce Aids testing of foreign students.

Commonwealth universities agreed to an ACU proposal to set up an experimental "knowledge network" which, said secretary general Michael Gibbons, would help universities to integrate HIV-Aids awareness and strategies into their institutions.

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