A new internal report on the extent of the spread of HIV/Aids in Uganda’s school system has set off alarm bells in the Ministry of Education and other government agencies, Education Guide has learnt. The report of a survey commissioned by the Ministry reveals that at least 427, 112 learners, teachers and non-teaching staff are carrying the virus. The figure represents nearly a quarter of known national prevalence rate which stands at slightly over two million.
Education holds the largest number of civil servants and given the high numbers of young people at various stages of study, another significant section of the population is in school. According to the report some 65, 292 both students, teachers and non-teaching staff in secondary schools are living with the virus.
Out of the 112 districts that were surveyed, the report says nine have over 8, 000 pupils infected with the virus. Kampala leads with 19, 439 pupils with HIV/Aids followed by Wakiso with 18,935 and Arua (15, 323). Maracha (14, 504) takes the fourth position, Kamuli (11, 956), Mbarara (11, 879) while Ntungamo and Kibaale have 8, 743 and 8, 421 pupils respectively.
At least 980 primary teachers in Kampala are infected with the virus, the report reveals while Gulu has 903 cases of teachers with HIV/Aids, Wakiso (889), Oyam (637), Nebbi (595), Soroti (560), Tororo (539), Mubende (525) and Mbarara (511).
A total of 2, 094 teachers in secondary schools are infected while 28, 716 students have the virus, the report notes. About 1, 836 non-teaching staff are suffering from the virus. But health experts both at the ministry and independent agencies dispute Education’s numbers and methods of data collection saying it could have turned up wrong numbers.
Dr David Tigawalana, coordinator HIV prevention at Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) said he was yet to see the report but quickly added that the numbers appear too high adding that other sectors might post higher infection rates than Education. “We know there are sectors which are worse off like the army and fisheries. The population is increasing so it increases the number of people on ARVs,” he said when contacted for a comment.
Dr Joshua Musinguzi, the Ministry of Health’s acting manager Aids programme also disputed the numbers saying they appeared too high. “The numbers are too high almost a third of the infected national population. That is impossible. I doubt the numbers. I can’t say much because I haven’t looked at that report.”
The research report seen by this newspaper indicates that not all schools submitted their results meaning that the numbers could be even higher. For example, in pre-primary only 2,361 schools responded out of the 6,579 that were mapped in 2010 during the baseline census exercise with a total of 8,479 teachers.
Enrolment in 16,684 primary schools was 8,098,177 pupils (4,039,734 males and 4,058,443 females) with at least 169,503 teachers (104,494 males and 65,009 females) who responded to questions for the Education Statistical Abstract 2011.
Our numbers are accurate
An official at Ministry of Education who is knowledgeable about the survey insisted the numbers presented a real picture of the prevailing situation. He said, in fact the numbers could be even higher noting that secondary schools where 2,564 schools participated out of which 1,210,870 students (649,738 males and 561,132 females) responded together with their 64,675 teachers suffered higher levels of stigma and therefore might have registered a lower response rate.
Also, response from private schools was poor with ministry officials attributing it to some institutions operating illegally, therefore difficult to track. This newspaper was told that there is a general discomfort about how the numbers would be perceived by various stake holders.
The results of the 2011 Uganda Aids Indicator Survey show that the country is losing the battle against the scourge with 7.3 per cent of adults aged between 15 to 49 now living with HIV up from 6.5 per cent previously.
Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, director basic education, who backed the statistics, in an interview, said absenteeism in schools was high partly because many teachers are often off because of sickness he attributed to HIV/Aids.
According to the HIV workplace policy, a teacher living positively has a right to go on leave once they are unwell. Teachers are encouraged to reveal their status to their supervisors so that they are not removed from payroll or penalized otherwise.
“A number of teachers are really sick and their productivity is very low. Administrators are getting sick, less productive, absent all the time and sometime they encroach on the school budget,” Dr Nsubuga said.
Adding: “We decided to have an additional teacher for every school. We are yet to agree whether it should apply both at primary and secondary because they are all affected.”
He explained that the most affected disciplines are in areas of science subjects and mathematics citing that it is worse in rural areas where “a teacher is shared among three schools”.
While the standby teacher proposal is easy to apply in primary section because a teacher can handle many subjects the idea is proving a challenge in secondary schools where there is higher specialisation.
Although he didn’t mention the name of the school, Dr Nsubuga said the number of HIV/Aids infected persons among learners has increased to an extent that students in one of the schools attacked administrators demanding for ARVs. He said there is need to redesign HIV/Aids campaigns to attract the attention of the youth.