Burundian union STEB is eager to see a visible, national campaign to respond to HIV and AIDS. Specific to the education sector, the union believes that coordinated strategies could see teachers living with HIV “make their professional expertise and personal experience” contribute to overcoming the impact on education quality. Committed to supporting the Ministry of Education in providing quality education, the union undertook a study mapping teachers living with HIV and their role in education.
Useful findings emerged from the STEB survey ‘Teachers Living with HIV: What support?’ of 416 teachers and education sector administrators. Over three-quarters of those surveyed definitively confirmed teachers living with HIV in their workplace. Less than one in fifty believed none of their colleagues were living with HIV. Repeatedly, those interviewed expressed concern about how the right to confidentiality is managed within the workplace. A mere 17 had learned of colleagues’ sero-status in an open and voluntary way. More often, they learned it unofficially through a third person, feeding into stigmatisation and disinformation.
Promotion of voluntary testing seems to be an urgent need, with over 50% of respondents reported never to have been tested. Many of those tested had done so after a long illness or because some religious ministers make it a stipulation for marriage. Very few teachers had pro-actively decided to get the test.
All of the participants believed it to be ‘very important’ to be aware of your status, indicating that obstacles may be practical rather than psychological. Many were in favour of introducing voluntary on-campus testing as a way to demystify and de-stigmatise testing, and felt that greater efforts were needed to make affordable treatment and care available at local level.
While in theory participants believed it best to be open about their status, they noted the difficulties faced by teachers disclosing their status. These included a loss of credibility from students, colleagues and parents, which sometimes forced them into moving jobs.
Better support to enable teachers living with HIV to work well is an urgent need, with three-quarters unaware of any support systems put in place by the school administration. Many felt this was due to ignorance of either the needs of people living with HIV or ignorance of the presence of colleagues living with HIV.
Participants agreed on an urgent need for moral, material and financial support through the establishment of a national support service for teachers living with HIV.
Through the survey, STEB concludes ‘the absence of a policy or an organisation looking to the needs of TLWH deprives teachers and calls into question government efforts to achieve the Education for All goals”. The union also argues that lack of statistics on teachers living with HIV could have a huge impact on the education system. Only through knowing more about teachers living with HIV can their needs be truly addressed.