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Some twenty-four officials from Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles met in January to examine sex education policies in schools in the sub-region. The officials, who have many years of experience in the education and HIV/AIDS sectors, discussed best practices in communication in the region.
Speaking during the meeting, the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) Secretary-General, Monique-Andreas Esoavelomandroso, said that "our children and youths have to deal with a lot of pressure from the media, their peers, poverty, traditional practices, and violence – moral, sexual and verbal. They need knowledge that will enable them deal with HIV/AIDS. In this respect, the school is the ideal environment for them to acquire such knowledge."
Youths have been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Out of 1.5 billion youths across the world, about 11.8 million are currently living with HIV. Each day, some 5,000 to 6,000 people aged 15-24 are infected with HIV. 40% of all new cases reported are young people.
The IOC recently signed an agreement of €50,000 with the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association (MFPWA) to be financed by the African Development Bank Group. The agreement provides for regional a policy or strategy design on Information Education Communication for schools and universities. The agreement also provides for the design of a sex or family education module for its integration into school curricula.
Experience shows that at adolescence, when young people start making choices in life, it is important for them to have the knowledge and prevention-related information they need to deal with HIV/AIDS. Working therefore with youths in schools is the best way given that most young people go to school. Teaching sex education in schools is therefore very important in Indian Ocean Countries as parent-child discussions on sex education are either proscribed or inadequate.
At the end of the meeting, Indian Ocean countries identified areas which could be considered as modules for sex education in schools on HIV/AIDS. The modules take into account national peculiarities while seeking to attain the objective of reinforcing the capacity of young people. Some one hundred teachers from the region will be trained in order for them to later train their peers in their respective countries.
Meanwhile, some forty representatives of NGOs and organizations involved in the fight against AIDS in the Indian Ocean met in Mauritius in the first two weeks of March for a training session on organizational concepts and care for people living with HIV. Organized by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), the training was provided by ENDA, a Senegal-based NGO. Speaking during the training session, IOC Secretary-General, Monique Andreas- Esoavelomandroso said that "NGOs play an important role in society," adding that "they are capable of challenging policy-makers, defending the most vulnerable and working directly with beneficiaries in an independent manner."
Across the world, NGOs play a key role in the fight against AIDS. Many NGO networks have been established and they are among the best defenders of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. They are advocating universal access to treatment, care and support. They are the voices of those living with the virus by calling on governments to meet their commitments.
The training by ENDA enabled NGOs in Indian Ocean countries to discuss, examine all major challenges and analyze themes emerging from the response to HIV. The training also focused, among other things, on the provision of social and psychological support to people living with HIV/AIDS.
"It’s great meeting my peers from other Indian Ocean countries, we are speaking the same language and we are facing the same challenges," MAD’AIDS Madagascar’s Expert, Firinga Johnson, said, adding that "we have understood that besides training, it is necessary for us to network in other to be a lot stronger."
"The workshops are meeting the needs we have identified," the AIRIS-COI Training Officer, Dr. Agnes Chetty, said. "The value added which is important for the training is the exchange and sharing of information that we have already tried in other areas and which has proven to be very useful."
The AIRIS-COI project aims at preventing the HIV/AIDS/IST transmission within and across IOC member countries. The project also aims at sensitizing the population on risky behavior, improving access to quality preventive and curative services as well as creating, in close collaboration with UNIAIDS and national authorities, a regional HIV/AIDS observatory which will monitor the spread of the virus in the region.