Comment: Schools need much better guidance on HIV
Thursday 21 May 2009
There are around 1,500 children under the age
of 19 living with HIV in the UK; the majority were born with the
virus. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 makes it illegal to
discriminate against people living with HIV and protects
HIV-positive pupils and staff from discrimination, requiring
schools to make reasonable adjustments to support them.
Despite these legal protections, the Children and Young People
HIV Network, based at NCB, routinely hears of children being
refused school places or excluded, and school staff being refused
employment. In one case, a teacher who wrongly presumed a child
knew her own diagnosis informed the child of her HIV status.
HIV is not a notifiable condition, which means individuals have
the right to decide whether or not to disclose their status. There
have been no known cases of HIV transmission in UK schools and it
is important to note that an HIV-positive child poses no risk to
pupils or staff. HIV cannot be transmitted through spitting,
biting, small cuts or grazes, sharing utensils or toilet seats.
If HIV was not surrounded by stigma, it could be treated like
any other condition but parents and young people are often advised
not to tell anyone about their HIV status as they may encounter
negative reactions. Confidentiality is incredibly important, in
order to avoid bullying and to protect the status of the parents.
However, these children often live their lives in secrecy, which
can have a harmful impact on their social interaction.
The HIV Network and the National Aids Trust have pressed the
Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for better
guidance for schools on how to support HIV-positive children.
Despite support from teaching unions, we have so far been unable to
come to a consensus with the DCSF on this issue.
Maria Phelan, co-ordinator, Children and Young People HIV