GTU going to school with anti-HIV/AIDS programme
--- WHO, EI backing pilot initiative by Chamanlal Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 15, 2004

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The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is currently conducting a training seminar to impart the skills among its membership to help young people acquire the correct attitudes and lifestyle in order to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease.

The six-day seminar organized by the international teachers' organization Education International (EI) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) is putting together a project aimed at the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Guyana, and will be used as a pilot project for implementation in other CARICOM countries.

President of the GTU, Sydney Murdock, at a press conference yesterday at the Ocean View International Convention Center noted that the project will be implemented in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Health, pointing out that while the union has its differences with the Education Ministry on the issue of salaries and working conditions, there is need with respect to the issue of HIV/AIDS for collaboration because the dreaded disease threatens the very existence of society. Thus there can be no difference on this matter. "We need to work together or perish separately," Murdock emphasized.

He explained that the project is targeting schools in every administrative region in the country and following the conclusion of the seminar those teachers that have been trained will return to their communities and train their colleagues so that the students will eventually benefit. A training manual is being prepared to guide trainers to train other teachers, Murdock disclosed.

He also welcomed the participation of colleagues from other CARICOM countries at the seminar.

EI's Coordinator for the Caribbean and North America, Ms. Virginia Albert, said that the 23 million-member organization which has affiliates in 161 countries, sees the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a priority issue therefore saw it fit to include the Caribbean.

The programme is aimed at prevention of the disease in young people through the inculcation of positive and correct attitudes, Ms. Albert said, adding: "Basically we see it as a rescue mission."

EI's Coordinator based in Brussels, Wouter van der Schaaf touching on the impact and scale of HIV/AIDS on society disclosed that about 10,000 persons are dying every day from the disease, adding that last year three million persons died from it worldwide, while in Africa there is a 30% infection rate. This he said is having a tremendous impact on the education sector with hundreds of thousands of children being infected with the disease.

Schaaf said in view of the enormous infection scale the projects is aiming beyond the mere imparting of knowledge of the disease and to provide the skills to work with students to avoid the current "risk behaviour" pattern that is prevalent to young people.

Asked how effective such projects have been in other parts of the world where they have been implemented, Schaaf give the example of Rwanda where of the 2,000 existing schools there the project has bore fruition in 1,500 of them. However, he pointed out that one of the decisive factors in its successful implementation there has been the support given by the Ministry of Education whereby the project has become part of the school curriculum.

President of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), Byron Farqharson said CUT is in full solidarity and support of the efforts of the GTU, and that the very survival of the Caribbean region depends on how effectively the HIV/AIDS pandemic is tackled.

He added that the successful implementation of the project would also help to counter the present discriminatory trends against infected children through the development of greater tolerance and understanding.