Addressing the discrimination against HIV-positive teachers in Africa is a key aim of a new documentary and accompanying book being launched in Senegal today by the Partnership for Child Development based at Imperial College London.
An estimated 122,000 teachers in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV, most of whom have not sought testing and do not know their status. Stigma inhibits teachers from being tested for HIV and many of those who know their status fear the discrimination they might face at home, in their workplace and their community if they declare it, according to the Imperial team.
Women are particularly vulnerable, with some being forced out of their marital home following an HIV diagnosis. Stigma and the fear of discrimination discourages HIV-positive teachers from accessing the care and support they need to stay healthy and keep teaching and is therefore a major obstacle for education in the region.
The new film and book, called "Courage and Hope: African Teachers Living Positively With HIV", tell the stories of fourteen HIV-positive teachers in sub-Saharan Africa. The teachers explain how they discovered their HIV status and discuss how it has affected their lives, including the impact on their relationships with their families, schools and communities.
7000 DVD copies of the film and 1000 books will be handed out this week and thousands more copies will be distributed around the world following the launch. This will include supplying them to teaching organisations so they can be used as part of the teacher training programmes.
One of the teachers featured in the film is Beldina Atieno from Kenya. Beldina explains that she lost her husband, her children and her job when she learned that she was HIV-positive. After she received treatment, Beldina returned to teaching, re-established her home with her children and now works to help others to face similar challenges. Beldina says: "My only challenge is how to get teachers to know their status so that those who are HIV-negative would stay so, and those testing positive could learn to live positively. I have made people realize that testing positive is just starting a new life. The challenges I had before, like being discriminated against, are no more - I have overcome those."
Jemimah Nindo, another teacher from the film, works to address HIV stigma and discrimination among students and staff. She says: "To me, it is an opportunity because the children will learn that my teacher is HIV positive and I know my teacher is not immoral, so this child will grow up with that kind of attitude and it can reduce the stigma."
The book and film will be launched at the 15th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Senegal, Africa today by Imperial College London's Partnership for Child Development, the World Bank and UNAIDS. There will be a simultaneous screening at the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Film Festival in Geneva, Switzerland. The book and film are both available in English and French.
Alice Woolnough, one of the Executive Producers of the documentary from the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London said: "On an individual level, we hope that this moving documentary will encourage teachers to get tested, so that those who are HIV-positive can access the treatment and care that they need, enabling them to continue with their teaching and live a healthy and fulfilling life. On a wider level, we hope to increase the profile of HIV-positive teachers in the response to HIV, so they can influence policy-makers and give advice from their personal perspective."
Dr Michael Beasley, Acting Director of the Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London explained: "Sadly, many teachers in Africa feel they can't have an HIV test because of the discrimination they might face from their employers and colleagues, so they remain untreated. This is a huge problem in education - many teachers die because they do not receive treatment. This is a tragedy, not just for them and their families but also for children's education in the region."
Dr Beasley added: "Up to 60% of public sector workers in Africa are teachers. They play an important part in society, acting as role models for adults as well as children. Because of this, teachers can be great at delivering a message to people and help reduce the stigma attached to HIV. A strong and healthy teaching workforce is key to making this a successful endeavour."