HIV/AIDS is a pandemic that clearly took the world by surprise. Currently, according to UNAIDS 33.3 million people in the world are victims of HIV/AIDS and 22.5 of them are in Africa. Even worse, 2.3 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV . The consequences of living with this disease vary among genders. Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa face the consequences more than their male counterparts because they have to give up a lot.

Education is priceless, where there is lack of education there are a lot of problems. The  second Millennium Development Goal (MDG) set out universal primary education as a goal to be achieved by 2015. In TRADITIONAL African settings, girls have been forced to drop out school for several reasons, one of them being HIV/AIDS. This affects the girl child mostly because of the TRADITIONAL roles girls have to play in TRADITIONAL African settings. In cases where kids are orphaned because of HIV/AIDS, the girls have to drop out of school in order to work to support the rest of the family. In worse cases, the girls get married off in order to secure a better life for the family.Men who marry these young girls pay bride price to the families (bride price is inherently African culture but because of poverty parents literally give out underage daughters so as to get bride price)

Three quarters of all Africans between the ages 15-24 who are HIV positive are female. Already, there is a high level of poverty in rural Africa, getting infected with HIV only lessens the chances of ever breaking the poverty cycle these young girls find themselves in because really in the world of today, lack of education contributes a great deal to poverty.

Aside from HIV/AIDS preventing girls  from attending school, it also prevents their teachers from carrying out their duties. Teachers in rural Africa who have the disease or who have family members affected by HIV are often forced to quit teaching in order to provide care or carry out their duties negligibly as their attention is elsewhere. HIV/AIDS is a disease that attacks the body’s immune system so terribly that without the right medication it is impossible for the affected to carry on life activities like school work.

It has been proven that proper education would reduce the risk and prevalence of HIV because young people who use condoms and engage in healthy sex behaviour have lower chances of getting the virus. Also, with adequate campaigns for education, parents realise that it is important for the girl child to remain in school just as it is important for the male child.

In order to mitigate the impacts of HIV on female education, a safe environment needs to be provided for young girls in school. In this case, a safe environment would mean a healthy or disease free environment including provision of Antiretroviral (ARV)therapy to young girls in school. These have been proven to boost up the immune system of people suffering from HIV/AIDS. A safe environment should also include a stigma free environment where young girls living with this disease can attend school without being made fun of or discriminated against.

Also, HIV prevention education needs to be provided through effective use of Teachers, community leaders and local Faith-Based Organizations. With proper prevention campaigns and education, HIV and its impacts could be mitigated.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown with kids in Soweto, South Africa. [Source: Mail & Guardian Online]

Recently, Gordon Brown warned that failure to place education as a high priority will affect economic growth. Many developing countries do not look at the long-term benefits of education. Care for People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) should include education, it is not all about providing ARVs because ARVs constitute just one aspect of care.

Finally, it is worthy to note that education in itself can prevent HIV, A UN study showed that 7 million new cases of HIV infection could be prevented in a decade if every child completed their primary education. This is because education makes them more aware and they will be able to avoid high risk behaviours. Also, education provides young girls with several economic options which helps them makes responsible choices regarding child-bearing, sex (especially commercial sex) and HIV prevention methods.

“Without education, AIDS will continue its rampant spread. With AIDS out of control, education will be out of reach.” Dr. Peter Piot,
Executive Director of UNAIDS in that statement rightly tells of what the reality young girls living with HIV face. Many NGOs are working hard to make sure that girls living with this disease have equal opportunities with regards to education. With cooperation from more people we could kick HIV/AIDS in young girls through education and vice versa.