Schools Can Help Combat HIV/AIDS

Dr. Dharamsi, Faculty Lead for the LIU Global Health Network recently participated in and helped organize an international colloquium led by Dr. Andrew MacNab on establishing and evaluating health promoting schools with reference to WHO Guidelines, held at The Wallenberg Research Centre, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, November 9-11, 2011. Below is a brief report on the colloquium:

“Schools have a responsibility to improve the knowledge and change the attitudes and behaviour of learners regarding HIV/Aids,” said Dr Jyothi Chabilall of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Wednesday (9 November).

Drs Jyothi Chabilall (right) and Therese Fish, Deputy dean: Community Service and Interaction, at the colloquium. (Photo: Alec Basson)

She was one of the speakers at a three-day international colloquium (9-11 November) held at the Wallenberg Research Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study (STIAS).The colloquium was organised by STIAS and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada.

Themed “Many Voices One Song.” Health-Promoting Schools: Evidence, Strategies, Challenges and Prospects, the colloquium offered opinion leaders and educators the opportunity to evaluate school-based health promotion programs and to discuss the implementation of this health model with reference to the World Health Organisation guidelines.

Chabilall said adolescents are the most vulnerable to HIV but also the most likely to change their behaviour if guided correctly.

“It is important that teachers help develop healthy attitudes and behaviour among adolescents. School laws, customs and policies need to ensure that there is a focus on information regarding HIV/Aids.”

There is a need for a safe school culture that is conducive to learning, Chabilall said.

“Teachers much be trained adequately to transmit the necessary information about HIV/Aids confidently and accurately.”

According to Chabilall, this will ensure that learners receive reliable and beneficial information.

“Schools can sometimes be guilty of creating the scope for myths and misconceptions among adolescents concerning HIV/Aids. One misconception is that the youth is safe, and therefore HIV/Aids should not be taken seriously.”

Chabilall pointed out that in some areas the school culture did not ensure the well-being of learners. Many schools are dysfunctional and unsafe, she added.

The youth must be resolute to change their behaviour, and communities must be involved in promoting the health of adolescents, Chabilall said.

Dr Shafik Dharamsi speaking at the colloquium (Photo: Alec Basson)

Dr Shafik Dharamsi of UBC was of the view that health-promoting schools could create an environment that will enable young people to respond to needs of their communities.

According to him, educators should prepare future health-care professionals to serve their communities.

“How we educate them will determine their sense of social responsiveness and social responsibility,” Dharamsi said.

Professor Russel Botman, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, welcomed the delegates and said the promotion of health in schools should be linked with wellness which included not only physical aspects, but also social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual and financial wellness.

Health promotion in schools was a way of building hope in situations where despair is threatening to overwhelm people, he added.

The three-day colloquium ended on Friday, November 11, 2011.