Why should education providers provide information about HIV to students?
When the ‘AIDS epidemic’ first started, education providers rarely supplied information to students about HIV and AIDS because teenagers were not being diagnosed with the virus at that time.
Today there are many young people being diagnosed and living with HIV and thankfully there is much more information available.
We now know that school-based HIV prevention programs can be extremely effective in preventing the spread of HIV and education is vital in keeping students HIV free.
For those looking to implement or adapt existing programmes, here are 5 suggestions for universities and colleges to help maximise impact and make a critical difference in raising HIV awareness for their students.
1. Choose programs that are comprehensive
You want your program to be informed by evidence and it should be comprehensive in its approach, focusing on all prevention methods, including both abstinence and safe sex. It should acknowledge that young people do choose to have sex and should provide advice on how to access and use condoms so students can make informed decisions on their own terms. It is best to share knowledge that is functional, practical and that relates to healthy behaviours, not abstract information that students won’t retain or won’t find useful.
You should also consider having classroom activities where students can get comfortable practicing scenarios like refusing sexual advances or pressures to not use protection, discussing alternatives and how to seek help if needed. In younger students you could also encourage parents and their children to discuss relationships and sex at home, removing taboo and making the conversation easier
There are new studies that show the importance of contextual HIV and STI prevention education. As Kathy Frobisher, an educator at UK Dissertation Writing Services and Paper Fellows states: “this means that the level of romantic relationship will have an impact on someone’s sexual choice, and prevention skills that are taught need to be realistic and reflect those relationships. Consider what local resources are available in your county or city that can help you design a good program for your class.”
2. Be mindful of the language used
The language that you use when discussing these issues is very important and it's imperative to ensure it’s inclusive and thoughtful for everyone involved. Those at highest risk of contracting HIV are young gay and bisexual men, and men that have sex with men, as well as transgender women. For effective HIV prevention, it’s important that schools and colleges are inclusive in their language, activities and content so that LGBTQ+ students can be engaged in the discussion without fear or self-stigmatisation.
The language is vital because it needs to be completely non-blaming and aware that some experiences are unfortunately coerced and forced, so be mindful of possible trauma when teaching and talking about sex education. It’s also important to review your program frequently so that your content and language is always up to date and considers the latest research.
3. Promote a safe environment at school
Young people that are in the sexual minorities are unfortunately those at highest risk for HIV, they are frequently targeted by bullying and harassment and also struggle with self-stigmatisation. According to Belinda Hayes, a college counselor at Academized and Writing PhD Thesis, “schools need to take the appropriate measures to make sure these students are protected, and to limit truancy by these students who do not feel comfortable attending class. School policies should have written and entrenched protections for sexual minority youth and commitment to creating a safe environment for all students to learn.”
4. Use a comprehensive approach
You should have a comprehensive approach to health education across all areas of risk. For example, the student who is able to withstand peer pressure for using tobacco, drinking alcohol, or taking dares, will also be in a better position to make healthier sexual choices and resist pressures. By looking at the overall environmental and social aspects of school such as how close students are and how connected they feel to the community and by developing these healthy behaviours, these young students will be less inclined to take part in other risky ventures.
5. Share real resources with your students
When students are easily able to access condoms, contraception, and STI testing they’re a lot more likely to be health conscious. To do this, create a school health centre where students can get resources and testing for free, without judgment.
There’s no reason we can’t give students all the information they need so they can make mature, informed choices about their sexual health and prevent further spread of the HIV virus.