General Articles

UNAIDS Program on Prevention: The More Education, the Less HIV

Widespread education efforts are needed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and begin the process of changing both individual behaviors to reduce risk and the social environment to reduce vulnerability. In the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, however, AIDS is undermining education as teachers fall sick, families can no longer afford to send children to school, and many young people are forced into work or to the street. In response to such evidence, the Joint United Nation’s Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Inter-Agency Task Team on Education, led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has released the UNESCO’s Strategy for HIV/AIDS Prevention Education which was designed to help structure the agency’s collaborative work with other UN agencies to strengthen prevention efforts.1

The Strategy for HIV/AIDS Prevention Education reports the rationale for investing in the education sector and outlines the agency’s plans for involvement in areas of the world desperately in need of both HIV prevention and educational system improvement. The agency explains that widespread HIV/AIDS education is of utmost importance:

Social silence results in soaring infection. Faulty knowledge results in careless behavior. Lack of knowledge leads to lack of care for those that are infected—and to stigmatization that turns the infected into outcasts. Denial may hasten death.2

To meaningfully fulfill the need for prevention, UNESCO has prioritized efforts to expand educational opportunities and the quality of education for all. First, this means improving access to formal schooling because enrolling and staying in school is, in and of itself, a protective factor against HIV-infection.3 It is also necessary to ensure that schools are safe for students and to improve the working environment for educators, including teachers who are living with HIV/AIDS.4 For out of school youth and community members, UNESCO is working to expand creative community programming.5

Whether provided in or out of schools, prevention education must be of high quality in order to be effective. UNESCO promotes the systematic implementation of skills-based, rights-based education to “empower individuals to make free and informed decisions, in particular about sexual negotiation and condom use.”6 The agency seeks approaches to prevention based on information that is scientifically sound, culturally appropriate, and effectively communicated.7 To this end, the agency is committed to facilitating in-country policies and programs to develop and implement curricula, teacher training modules, and schools as learning and resource centers for the community, among other priorities.

Such quality education may face challenges to implementation, but at the same time working to implement such programming can serve as the solution to those obstacles. For example, young women are disproportionately ignorant of HIV/AIDS, means to prevent infection, and sexual health matters in general (see chart below).

This disparity in knowledge results not only from girls being less likely than boys to attend or stay in school but also from biases against providing young women with information about sexuality. In UNESCO’s training kit for young people, Rushdeen, a 16 year old young woman who is living with HIV, writes, “Nobody ever explained to me about the risks. Girls are not supposed to ask about sexual matters. I had heard that the first time one cannot get pregnant or catch AIDS. Now it is too late for me.”8

UNESCO recommends that young women and men not only receive education but also participate in the development of programs intended for them.9 For example, peer education programs have been highly successful in a wide variety of contexts. In addition to involvement in programming, young people can be important and effective advocates for HIV prevention. UNESCO’s training kit for young advocates, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: Young People in Action , begins, “The last couple of years of the epidemic have confirmed the tremendous potential of young people to change the course of the epidemic. They are a powerful force for change in their own households, in the lives of their peers, and in the community.”10

To download the full report UNESCO’s Strategy for HIV/AIDS Prevention Education , please visit:

To download UNESCO’s training kit for young advocates HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: Young People in Action, please visit:


  1. Kaiser Daily HIV Report, “UNAIDS Report Examining Education Sector and HIV/AIDS,” Press Release published 22 March 2006, accessed 23 March 2006, <>.
  2. UNESCO’s Strategy for HIV/AIDS Prevention Education, (Paris : International Institute for Educational Planning 2004), 13, accessed 23 March 2006, <>.
  3. Ibid., 25.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 20.
  6. Ibid., 18.
  7. Ibid., 20.
  8. HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: Young People in Action, ( Paris : United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 2001), 2, accessed 23 March 2006, <>.
  9. UNESCO’s Strategy, 19.
  10. HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, foreward.