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Education: A 'Social Vaccine' to Prevent the Spread of HIV

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 1 August 2008 - In the absence of medical vaccine to prevent HIV, we have to use sexuality education as a ‘social vaccine’, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, said Friday. She was participating in the first-ever meeting of Latin American and Caribbean ministers of health and education to discuss prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

At the meeting, government representatives from the region approved a declaration calling for the implementation and strengthening of comprehensive sexuality education and the promotion of sexual and reproductive health services, including prevention of HIV and STIs.

The declaration urges governments to offer comprehensive sexuality education, based on gender sensitivity and human rights, and including biological, ethical, emotional, social and cultural concerns. It also emphasizes that families, communities and young people must participate in the development of youth-friendly health services.

Participants at the meeting agreed on the need for health services for young people including counselling and voluntary testing for HIV and STIs; the provision of condoms and guidance on their correct and consistent use; information about family planning, including for people living with HIV, as well as treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

“In most countries in Latin America, HIV is still primarily a concentrated epidemic, although in some countries more and more women are becoming infected,” Ms. Obaid said. “The Caribbean has the second highest HIV rate in the world, second only to sub-Saharan Africa. This initiative comes at a momentous time. Today, the AIDS epidemic continues to pose a threat to human development and security in the region.”

In 2007, only 40 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women aged between 15 and 24 had comprehensive information on HIV and knew how to protect themselves from HIV infection, according to UNAIDS.

“Sexual and reproductive health education not only improves the quality of education overall, it also fosters gender equity, helps improve maternal and infant health, and brings us closer to achieving the [Millennium Development] goals of universal access to reproductive health and HIV prevention,” Ms. Obaid concluded.


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