Tuesday, 15 July 2008

HIV Discrimination Shame in Schools

I was led to this shocking report in Sunday's Observer. It led me to wonder are we still living in the dark ages of the 80s over HIV and more to the point why?

The first shocking thing is that schools in Hertfordshire and Lancashire are able to turn away children looking for new schools after it was revealed that they were HIV+. Not only is this shocking but since 2005 under the Disability Discrimination Act it has been illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their HIV status. Also if this is county wide just where are these parents expected to school their children.

In a ideal world there is a limited need to know of a child's medical status and his should only need been known to staff in direct contact with the child and the school nurse. This should not be dissipated further without the parent's consent however reading the incidents that have happened it would sadly be clear why parents would not wish the school to know in the first place.

It is confidential information and has no need to be disclosed to school dinner ladies or other pupils. The fact that one child was told of their previously unknown to them status by a teacher, which led to bullying shows lack of professionalism by the member of staff involved. When there is a chance of an adult having a STI they undergo a private counselling session before taking the test, that session is dealt with by a trained professional in that field. How much more care needs to be taken with a child? Which may well have been why the parents had yet to address the issue with the child. The end result in that child's case bullying and forced to leave the school would indicate one of two things. The child may have been told in the presence of other children and neither the staff, nor pupils once that first error was made were given appropriate guidance on how to deal with the outcome.

What is also shocking is the tenor of the article that teachers themselves are ignorant, indeed fearful through that ignorance, of how HIV is transmitted. In the 1980s we started in ignorance but many of us quickly learnt our facts once these became known from the shrouds of urban myth. In my case the education came swiftly as the result of sharing a house with a Haemophiliac who contracted HIV through bad factor 8. HIV cannot be passed on by spitting, biting, small cuts or grazes, sharing utensils or toilet seats. The risk assessment of any school would reveal that the changes of any possible spread of HIV from an affected pupil or member of staff is so minimal to be be negligible under normal circumstances and normal first aid guidelines would normally be sufficient under those extreme conditions anyway.

That our educators are ignorant of this lead one to wonder just what else our educators are ignorant of in their training, homophobia, race etc are areas that these people need to be taught and trained about to be able to deal with possibilities in the classroom. Are they? And is that training sufficient?

For the sake of the 1500 children in the UK living with HIV, 1000 of whom are under 15 and the 100 new diagnoses in this age group each year we need to provide them with an educational set up that allows them to be who they are without fear of some disclosure that may result in bullying or ignorant fear from others.

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