Boosting girls’ access to education would in Tanzania, will help them to avoid HIV/Aids, new research shows. Like many countries in Africa, Tanzania is facing a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, which threatens holding back the south east African country’s development. Some 1.4 million adults and children or about 8 per cent of the population is infected with HIV according to recent estimates.
But between 2004 and 2008, the rate of HIV among Tanzanians who went to high school fell sharply. In contrast, among the country's least educated people, the rate stayed the same, a new study has revealed. "National HIV prevalence has fallen recently in Tanzania. However, the improvements have not been spread evenly throughout the population,” said James Hargreaves, senior lecturer in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who wrote the report. "Our study showed differing HIV prevalence trends among three groups of people,” he told United Nations news service, IRIN. “There was a significant fall in HIV prevalence among Tanzanians who had attended secondary school, and we also saw a drop among those who attended primary school. "However, among those with no formal education, HIV prevalence remained stable," he added. "What this suggests is that between 2004 and 2008 new HIV infections may have been occurring fastest among a vulnerable group in Tanzania - those who have had the least access to school education. We need to ensure that our continued response to HIV recognises these different trends."
Tanzania’s most at risk groups are girls and women aged between 15 and 24 and orphans and vulnerable children aged under 18 and men aged from 25 to 34, according to UN figures. Other at risk groups are sex workers, people who work in transport, mines, police, prisoners and refugees. The new findings should prompt a re-think of HIV prevention plans, said Mr Hargreaves. “We need to be conscious that our programmes may be most successfully reducing sexual risk behaviours among higher socio-economic groups," he said. "Programmes that engage more directly with livelihoods or that address poverty and gender inequality are also important. "Increasing educational access for women, for example, would be one way of ensuring that lower socio-economic groups gain access to HIV prevention information and are empowered to make the changes necessary in their lives to avoid HIV infection," he added. The study was published in the journal AIDS and based on figures from two national health surveys, between 2003 and 2008.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children