How Sexual Education Could Solve The AIDS Epidemic In South Africa

As AIDS sweeps across Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s impossible to ignore the devastation that accompanies this fatal virus. South Africa, in particular, holds the largest HIV epidemic in the world, with over 7 million HIV affected individuals in 2016. Although this epidemic spreads in many ways, it is too often due to a lack of education, leaving South African individuals at a loss for how to prevent it.

In large part, implementing curriculum regarding sex is a large obstacle for teachers because of family and religious opposition. As Larissa Thaver from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa puts it, in ‘South Africa, it is still a common belief that sexual education belongs in the private sphere and should not be a part of public education’. In order to be able to educate students fully, an understandable and holistic curriculum must be implemented. Thaver again writes that ‘the curriculum must be adapted to emphasize on the development of life skills’. This means promoting a healthy lifestyle, including healthy relationships.

As many schools aren’t actually implementing these principles, Sister Ruth Loubser and Dr. Eli Rosen have began teaching what they call Sexuality and Relationships Education, or SRE. The program, as Rosen explains, “covers a comprehensive sex education curriculum with a focus on decision-making, [and] communication and relationship skills.” The duo has gained a massive amount of popularity around Africa, in part due to their teaching style. The team uses a fun and interactive style, including “lots of jumping and silly hats.” Instead of just lecturing at students, they engage in conversation focusing more on relationships and “issues of power and control.”

On the other hand, Leketi Makalela, a professor at the Wits School of Education, takes a different approach to ending the epidemic through education. He writes that “[persuasive] stories are recognized worldwide for their effectiveness in changing risky health behaviors” i.e. unwanted or unprotected sex. Makalela conducted a study aimed at investigating the effectiveness of an “oral story stimulus” on the spread of HIV. The test was conducted on students from the University of Limpopo, a rural university in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Students listened to a pre-recorded story and then asked questions regarding narrative interest, emotional involvement and absorption. His finding showed that “there were notable differences in the rate of persuasion,” meaning that the individuals tested felt emotionally impacted by the story. Furthermore, the results showed “a higher intention to commit the recommended behavior” of practicing safe sex and undergoing HIV testing. This innovative style of education has proven itself to be successful among a group of controlled students and confirmed the effectiveness of storytelling as a means for communicating HIV/AIDS messages.

Throughout most of South Africa, the topic of sex is often seen as ill-favored. An overall awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic must take place in order to get more people involved in the fight against it. With that being said, implementing a comprehensive sexual education system holds the most potential for ending the epidemic once and for all. 

Photo: Doug Linstedt

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