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The HIV/AIDS Crisis

AIDS ribbon   The HIV/AIDS epidemic is often thought to affect only the most poverty-stricken areas of the developing world. However, in reality, the disease knows no socioeconomic or geographical boundaries. AFT members from regions across the country face the challenges of HIV/AIDS just like their foreign counterparts.

AIDS kills. Once infected with HIV, an individual may follow certain strategies and treatments for managing AIDS and AIDS-related diseases, but, in the end, AIDS kills. There is no vaccine to prevent the infection and no treatment to cure it.

The key to preventing HIV/AIDS is education. Education about how the virus is transmitted, behavior that puts a person at risk and the need to have periodic HIV tests to determine infection status can make the difference between life and death. Learning about these topics is at the heart of healthy living and preventing the spread of the infection.

AFT-Africa AIDS Campaign

When teacher unions in Africa found that AIDS was decimating their ranks and destabilizing schools and communities, they called on the AFT for help. AFT members responded with the solidarity for which they are known, contributing generously to the AFT-Africa AIDS Campaign. Through their support, AIDS prevention education initiatives were launched in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Swaziland and South Africa.

Working with African union partners, AFT leadership has successfully attracted financial support from the U. S. government for programming in Africa. The union is currently involved in soliciting more government support for project activities in the U.S.

Only with integrated, comprehensive global education can we counterattack the HIV/AIDS crisis. AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson, meeting with African union delegations at the 2008 AFT convention, said, "We need you as much as you need us — we must work hand in hand. While we appreciate the financial support of all of our governments in our efforts to fight AIDS, we as teachers know that we need to learn from each other about what has worked and has not worked in our classrooms, in our schools, in our communities …. This is a plague that can destroy our education systems. For those most in need, who have no alternative, we must work together."

AIDS Education in the U.S.

Education about HIV/AIDS, both in the union hall and in the classroom, has been the AFT's goal since the disease was first documented in the 1980s. The union has invested resources into educating its members about the risks of HIV and promoting early detection and treatment to prevent the spread of AIDS. It has supported and assisted in the development of curricula to educate public school students and staff about the transmission, prevention and treatment of the infection, and it helped to formulate the Blood-borne Pathogen Standard adopted by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Connecting Students around the Globe

Following Johnson’s call to action, AFT vice president Laura Rico linked the faculty and students of Artesia High School in California’s ABC School District with the faculty and students at Manenberg High School in Cape Town, South Africa, in an HIV/AIDS awareness education project.

In October 2009, Rico and Sergio Garcia, the principal of Artesia High, went to Cape Town to launch the project at Manenberg High. The project aims to start dialogue among young people. Students learn from each other using e-mail for firsthand research on the impact of AIDS in their communities and discuss together what they are doing to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. Included in the project will be student exchanges for site visits to each other’s schools and community education centers.