Kenya fights Aids denial

January 4, 2002

Up to a quarter of Kenya's undergraduates will die from Aids-related conditions before they can draw their third annual salary after graduation, according to the chairman of the National Aids Control Council, Mohammed Abdulla.

The annual attrition rate for teachers has risen from about 2,500 a decade ago to more than 6,000. The agency responsible for teacher recruitment and management has attributed the rise to Aids. Kenya's ministry of education said that 18 of the 700 Kenyans who died every day from Aids-related complications were teachers.

In response, East and Central Africa's biggest teacher education university has established an HIV/Aids prevention board and a compulsory course on Aids for teacher trainees.

Kenyatta University, which graduates at least 2,000 teachers every year, has also started certificate, diploma and postgraduate programmes for serving teachers during school holidays.

Vice-chancellor George Eshiwani said the Aids prevention board was launched late last year in response to a challenge from the government and the Association of African Universities (AAU).

The AAU urged the continent's universities to spearhead the fight against HIV/Aids. A survey by the Association for Development of Education in Africa shows that 12 to 15 per cent of university teaching staff in Kenya is HIV positive.

Michael Kelly, professor of education at the University of Zambia, said many universities had adopted a denial approach towards the HIV/Aids threat.

"A thick cloak of ignorance surrounds the presence of the disease on the campus. This cloak is amply lined with layers of secrecy, silence, denial and fear of stigmatisation and discrimination."

Education efforts on HIV/Aids are mostly concentrated in the brief period of orientation for new students. Other than South Africa, universities do not offer any structured or formal education on Aids.

Professor Eshiwani, who is chairman of the AAU, said that Kenyatta's approach was meant to equip teacher trainees with the necessary communication skills to be passed on to their students and the society at large.

"The (Aids prevention) board will teach and examine students' communication skills on Aids," said Jude Ong'ong'a, the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academic affairs at Kenyatta. "We want our graduates to go out there and demystify Aids for the benefit of the country."

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