Blog
21
APR
2016

Sexual contact accounts for over 80% of reported AIDS cases in Chile, yet cultural norms prevent open discussion of sexual behaviors.  Misconceptions about HIV transmission modes are therefore entrenched at every level of society.  In some instances, Health Workers have been found to have inaccurate or incomplete knowledge of HIV transmission, while various forms of media have presented contradictory and confusing HIV prevention messages.

Until recently, the limited sexual education provided in Chilean schools compounded this issue. Where sexual education was available, it focused almost exclusively on abstinence, perpetuating cultural stigmas related to HIV and enabling misinformation to continue to flourish.

Recognizing that a multi-sector approach is critical to reducing the incidence of HIV transmission, the Chilean Government signed the UNESCO Preventing through Education Declaration  by which it has committed to reduce by 75% the number of public schools that have not institutionalized comprehensive sexual education.

In partnership with the Chilean Ministry of Education, the Center of Integral Sexual Education (CESI), a private organization dedicated to improving access to sexual education and psychological counseling in schools throughout Chile, has rigorously taken up this challenge.

Daniel Seguel, Regional Coordinator of CESI, notes that CESI’s HIV mandate includes providing “deep learning of HIV transmission”, in addition to the more broadly-available awareness education. He reports that CESI has integrated the TeachAIDS Spanish language materials into the programs it delivers to classrooms across Chile “in order to make available high quality materials and comprehensive education”.

Noting that the limited knowledge of teachers and cultural stigmas had previously been major stumbling blocks in providing such comprehensive HIV education. CESI Lead Psychologist Maria Sandoval notes, “We teach the teachers so that they can better teach their students.  Previously, teachers felt uncomfortable and disempowered when it came to presenting HIV education, so it is very good to have a tool that allows them to present this information through a reputable third party. This is a big step, and teachers are very thankful.”

Mr. Seguel and Ms. Sandoval proudly site numerous successes of the CESI-TeachAIDS partnership. They note that the materials were recently shared with teachers in the communes of Doñihue and Peralillo, in which talking about the sexual transmission of disease has historically been taboo. With the TeachAIDS materials, hundreds of families in this community will receive the information they need to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV.

The importance of sexual education in multi-sector approaches to reducing the transmission of HIV cannot be underestimated. We applaud the Government of Chile for taking steps to make this education available, and thank CESI for empowering teachers to approach the complex and important subject of sexual education.  Along with other nonprofit organizations around the world, including United Way of Hyderabad , Action for the Needy, and Children of Grace, CESI is leading the way in providing life-saving comprehensive HIV education to those who need it most.

15
MAR
2016

Bethany’s laptop was teeming with ants by the end of her stay in Vang Vieng, Laos.  Bethany had been volunteering with Fruit Friends, a nonprofit enterprise that works hand-in-hand with remote villagers to provide educational, agricultural and entrepreneurial opportunities.  She quickly learned that insects were part of the daily life - including a protein rich element of the diet - of the Laotian people.

Having heard about TeachAIDS through family, Bethany had been determined to provide HIV education to her colleagues in Laos since her arrival. Aware that her computer was unlikely to survive more than a few days longer, she quickly tuned into the TeachAIDS YouTube channel.

Bethany screened the female Indian-English language version of the TeachAIDS tutorials for the business manager, house manager, and interns of Fruit Friends, among other staff members.  Through the animations, she was able to assist her colleagues to answer some of their own pressing questions about HIV, including whether sharing razor blades and cooking knives can increase a person’s risk of HIV. Bethany noted that her colleagues were very happy to have the opportunity to discuss HIV. “They had so many questions and they had not had an opportunity to ask anyone these questions before. HIV is not something that is commonly discussed in Laos,” she observed, “but being aware of basic HIV facts in order to steer clear of contracting the infection is very important”.

Although Laos is classified as a low HIV prevalence country, the HIV infection is rapidly increasing, with remote areas particularly vulnerable to this disease.  Many villages are so remote that it takes several days to reach them by foot, and they are completely cut off from the outside world during the wet season. Along with stigmas that preclude the open discussion of HIV, these conditions makes providing targeting HIV education is extremely difficult.

Realizing that the Fruit Friends staff are very well placed to deliver HIV education to the villages with which they work, Bethany saw an important opportunity to equip them with the knowledge they need to empower villagers to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV.

“Fruit Friends staff are well respected and well liked, so they are the perfect conduit to spark this discussion across the villages in which they work”

We applaud Bethany and our partners at Fruit Friends and other organizations like The Samburu Girls Foundation, Action for the Needy, and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust who are simultaneously inducing change in their local communities and elevating their commitment to HIV prevention efforts worldwide. Their dedication leads them to overcome challenges such as a lack of electricity, cultural stigmas and even plagues of ants to make this possible.

Photo: Bethany (far right) delivered HIV education to the staff of Fruit Friends 

HIV awareness remains low in Bolivia, while stigma surrounding this condition is pervasive
24
FEB
2016

Stanford student Jill Huckels was baffled to see a child refusing to take his daily HIV medication on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The young boy had contracted HIV perinatally but been kept unaware of his HIV status by his parents to prevent the bullying and discrimination that typically follow a diagnosis of HIV. Consequently, he was unable to grasp the importance of the medications he was encouraged to take daily, and risked serious deterioration of his health.

Jill noted that the lack of HIV knowledge, and the stigma associated with this condition, is pervasive throughout Bolivia and likely contributes to the increasing incidence of HIV infection in many communities throughout this country.  With this in mind, on a recent Impact Abroad service-learning trip she and seven of her classmates endeavored to promote sexual health education in Cochabamba. Aiming to spark a conversation that would be highly informative while reducing the stigma associated with HIV, they implemented a suite of programs designed to engage all members of the community.

Having been introduced to the TeachAIDS materials through TeachAIDS Founder and CEO Dr. Piya Sorcar’s Research-Based Interventions in Global Health class at Stanford University, Jill was eager to integrate the animated tutorials into their sexual health education program. She and her team partnered with the Bolivian chapter of La Casa de Los Niños, which seeks to promote the education, recovery and reintegration of disadvantaged and children through community outreach programs. Together, they were able to reach over eighty children who were afflicted with disease, separated from their parents, or displaced from their homes.

“These children have endured homelessness, violence, abuse, and abandonment. We aimed to give them hope that there is something they can actively do about their health,” Jill shared.

The eagerness of the children to learn about HIV led Jill to and her classmates coordinated two movie nights to screen the video versions of the TeachAIDS software for the broader community. As they planned these events, they faced major resource constraints. Unwilling to allow these challenges to prevent the dissemination of this important information, Jill created an intimate theater using a projector and a white blanket to accommodate parents and their young ones on the first night and teenagers on the second. “The movie screenings were crucial in instigating a community-wide dialogue on HIV,” Jill explains, “and the children could hardly contain their excitement during the animations.”

Jill and her team did not stop there. They initiated a sexual health fair in a community park, and facing even greater resource constraints, displayed theTeachAIDS tutorial for dozens of children on a laptop.  The children crowded around the makeshift fifteen-inch cinema and avidly shouted answers to the questions posed in ‘Doctors Challenge’ section of the animation.

Jill is optimistic that despite the stigma and lack of awareness associated with HIV, the national discussion required to combat HIV is possible. She noted that “this is the decade where Bolivians, for the first time, are willing to hear about HIV.”

 We applaud the efforts of Jill and her Stanford classmates in taking these creative and meaningful steps towards making HIV education available in a nation acutely affected by HIV. The Stanford community nurtured TeachAIDS in its earliest days, and incredibly dedicated Stanford professors, students, and student groups continue to be critical partners in propagating TeachAIDS HIV prevention education materials throughout the world.

Photo:  HIV awareness remains low in Bolivia, while stigma surrounding this condition is pervasive
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04
FEB
2016

It is with great joy that we announce the release of the Tibetan language HIV education materials in time for the auspicious occasion of Losar or Tibetan New Year. These materials are the result of an intensive collaboration with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and several other committed partners. The animations are now available online for free and will be distributed to Tibetan schools, universities and health care facilities as soon as this month.

In 2015, HIV was identified by the CTA as a growing threat to Tibetans around the world and a priority for the Tibetan Department of Health . Recognizing that education is the key to prevention, Health Kalon Dr. Tsering Wangchuk approached TeachAIDS and requested assistance in developing culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible HIV education materials.

The animated education materials feature the universally respected Dr. Tsetan Dorji Sadutshang, personal physician to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Chief Medical Officer of the prestigious Delek Hospital as a wise doctor; and beloved singer and songwriter Phurbu T. Namgyal as an inquisitive student with many concerns about HIV transmission. During the research and testing phases, both cultural icons were identified as highly influential and deeply respected amongst the Tibetan community worldwide. Despite their intense work and travel schedules, both Dr. Sadutshang and Mr. Namgyal made huge efforts to devote significant time over months of work towards the development and high quality production of these animations.

Dr. Sadutshang cited His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s globally renowned kindness as his inspiration for becoming involved with TeachAIDS. He noted, “it’s about a universal responsibility that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always been talking about and that’s just not about taking care of only yourself, but taking care of everyone else around you, including all living beings, your environment and the entire universe. Be kind to others and help anyone you can.” Phurbu T. Namgyal echoed these sentiments, reflecting that there has been a “need for social leaders to propel efforts to protect Tibetans from HIV”.  Namgyal went on to say that “these education materials will be extremely beneficial for my people, especially those inside Tibet”, and added, “I am so happy to be a part of it!”

Sikyong (Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay offered an impassioned Message of Hope to accompany these materials, reflecting on the lessons learned in the 34 years since HIV was identified and reminding Tibetans that “there is no cure for HIV and AIDS but it is preventable. We have learned that the single best way to stop the spread of HIV is through education”.

Health Kalon Dr. Tsering Wangchuk complemented this message with an inspiring Call to Action urging Tibetans to learn to protect themselves and their loved ones and to treat people living with HIV with kindness, respect and dignity. The TeachAIDS materials have also been graciously supported by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who commended the compassion that guides the development of the HIV education software.

TeachAIDS has been overjoyed with the support we have received from the Tibetan community. Along with respected politicians, renowned medical personnel and cultural icons, we have received generous assistance from teachers, students, monastery staff and many experts from the Health Department at the Central Tibetan Administration. The development of these materials has truly been a remarkable demonstration of the strength and unity of the Tibetan community, and we are humbled to have been a part of this effort.

We encourage Tibetans around the world to watch these materials and learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV. In addition to being available for free on the TeachAIDS website, the animations will be shown on Tibet Online TV numerous times between February 5th through the 15th.
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02
FEB
2016

“There is no cure for HIV and AIDS but it is preventable. We have learned that the single best way to stop the spread of HIV is through education”- Dr. Lobsang Sangay.

The Honorable Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong (Prime Minister) of Tibet, has graciously offered a Message of Hope in English and Tibetan to be incorporated into the Tibetan language version of the TeachAIDS HIV animations. During this short video, Prime Minister Sangay reflects on the lessons learned over the 34 years since HIV was first identified. He notes that while many lives have been lost, Tibetans “can now look forward, not backward,” armed with more knowledge than ever before.

Prime Minister Sangay was elected to the post of Sikyong in 2011. As the political successor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister Sangay is an internationally respected advocate for nonviolent resolution of oppression. In transferring the role of political leadership of Tibet to Prime Minister Sangay, His Holiness the Dalai Lama noted that “When I was young, an elderly regent Takdrag Rinpoche handed over Sikyong to me, and today I am handing over Sikyong to young Lobsang Sangay… In doing this I have fulfilled my long-cherished goal.”

Born in a Tibetan settlement near Darjeerling, India, Prime Minister Sangay holds dual Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Law from Delhi University. As a Fulbright Scholar, he received Master's and Doctorate degrees in Law from Harvard University. Widely recognized as a world expert on international human rights law and democratic constitutionalism, Prime Minister Sangay has spoken at hundreds of seminars and won a number of prestigious international awards. He was the recipient of the Leadership Award from Regional New England Amnesty International and the Peace and Justice Award from the Peace Commission of City of Cambridge. In addition, he was recognized with the Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse by the College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin; and recently received the 2015 Salisbury University Presidential Medal for Distinguished Community Leadership.

During his tenure as Sikyong, Prime Minister Sangay has sought to unify the Tibetan diaspora and promote strategic nonviolent resistance. A firm believer that the future of the Tibetan population is in the hands of today’s youth, Prime Minister Sangay has implemented broad policies for equitable, high-quality education and health care, as well as strategies to promote youth empowerment.

In furtherance of his commitment to the future of Tibet, Prime Minister Sangay is dedicated to ensuring that all Tibetans have access to high quality HIV education materials, including the “remarkable tools” developed by TeachAIDS “designed for the Tibetan people and Tibetan children”. Prime Minister Sangay appeals to Tibetans to educate themselves about HIV and “ so that our children, your son and daughter, your nephews and niece will be… a healthy Tibetan”.

In addition to the generous support they have offered TeachAIDS in the development of the Tibetan language HIV education materials, Prime Minister Sangay’s administration has agreed to distribute more than 10,000 copies of the Tibetan language software to clinics, schools and hospitals in Tibetan communities throughout India, Nepal and Bhutan, as well as inside of Tibet. We thank Prime Minister Sangay for his personal dedication to HIV prevention and for mobilizing support from his office to make this initiative a reality. Together, we will make high quality health education available to millions of Tibetans around the world.