Cover image: HIV / AIDS


There has been significant progress in addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide. According to UNICEF,

'Since 2010, 1.4 million new infections in children under five have been averted'

However, progress has been uneven around the world and the HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately affect children. HIV/AIDS is surrounded by murky layers of prejudice and misunderstanding, so it's important to teach about this issue in order to create a safer, fairer and healthier world.


HIV/AIDS is much more than a health issue. It has become a major development problem. By spreading fast, and mostly among young people and working-age adults, it cripples a country’s economy, society and family structure. According to a World Bank study, when eight percent or more of a population becomes infected with HIV, the growth of the economy slows down. This is because the labour force is reduced, which puts pressure on the country’s already overwhelmed government, as well as its economic and health care systems.

  • Over 36 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Seventy percent of these—over 25 million—are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • More than 17 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. These children are less likely to attend school, receive good nourishment or proper healthcare.
  • In 2014, roughly 2 million people became newly infected with HIV, and there were 1.2 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.
  • Since the beginning of the epidemic, about 34 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.
  • However, the annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined in recent years, and, due to far more people receiving antiretroviral therapy, the number of AIDS-related deaths has also declined.(The above figures are from the AVERT website, quoting UNAIDS research from 2014 )

Antiretroviral or ARV medication can dramatically increase the life-spans of people with AIDS, and improve their quality of life. Although the number of people on ARV medication tripled in 2005, eighty percent of people that need ARV drugs still have no access to them. In addition, in spite of well known prevention methods, studies show that most people in need lack awareness and access to prevention. For example, HIV-infected babies are born every day, even though treatments exist to prevent their mothers from transmitting the infection. Especially in poor countries, few of these women have access to the treatment. The good news is that many countries have set targets for scaling-up treatment, and global organisations and funding bodies are formulating strategies to increase ARV coverage.

Why teach about HIV/AIDS?

HIV/AIDS has a strong global dimension that ties into a wide range of curriculum areas. It is a global problem that brings home the interconnectedness as well as interdependence of people and countries. A disease that started in Africa is now spreading faster than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, where 220,000 people were infected in 2005. And 103,400 people in the UK today are HIV positive. An HIV/AIDS lesson for Citizenship could include a discussion of the lack of access of the world’s poor to ARV drugs. Ask students for their ideas on how cheaper drugs could be made available, as well as the responsibility of governments, pharmaceutical companies, and multilateral agencies in this regard. Lessons could also address the importance of making safe choices, or role-plays on the issue of the negative stigma and discrimination that many people with AIDS face. Studying AIDS is also relevant to Geography, PSHE, and Biology. It could even be incorporated into an English/literacy lesson, as there are many stories and first-hand accounts of people around the world living with the disease. HIV/AIDS is an issue that is very relevant to young people. It’s important that they have the knowledge, skills and values to make informed decisions and help to stop the disease from spreading. This is not an easy topic to address, but there are plenty of sources of support and guidance.