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.