Prior to the start of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, the Mexican Government called the First Meeting of Ministers of Education and Health to Stop HIV and STIs in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Technical Experts from international organizations including, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) among others, as well as civil society organizations came to contribute to the Summit. Many participated in a technical meeting the day before the Ministerial Summit to discuss the necessary qualities of a comprehensive response to prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) and the commitments that governments need to take.
Hiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO has commented that “sex education is imperative for HIV prevention to be fully effective; access to it is a moral responsibility and a human right.” [i] Still, all country representatives did not come to the Summit with parallel objectives in mind. While “this meeting shows the high level of commitment from the health and education sectors to provide a stronger response to HIV prevention, including the promotion of sexual health and provision of sex education,” as stated by PAHO Director Mirta Roses, achieving consensus required some negotiation. [ii]
As the Declaration was following a right-based approach, non-discrimination, including a broad reference to sexual orientations, was both a key component and a sticking point with some attendees. The representative from Jamaica, for example, resisted this inclusion initially, although in the end conceded this point. Another area of contention revolved around the issue of abstinence. Ecuador advocated strongly for an explicit reference to abstinence in the Declaration. While promoting sexual delay is an important element of a comprehensive sexuality curriculum and HIV-prevention strategy, the term “abstinence” brings with it burdensome political baggage that has been rejected in the region and that is seen to interfere with the overall vision of the Declaration. In the end, the language that Ecuador sought was not included.
Despite minor contradictions and controversies during both technical meeting and summit, the final Declaration was successfully drafted and outlines the commitments to be carried out. These steps include conducting reviews of existing curricula during 2009 and 2010 to determine the extent that comprehensive sexuality education is currently being implemented, updating curricula, and training all teachers with the newest comprehensive sexuality education curricula by 2015. [iii] The government officials left the Ministerial Summit with the mandate to carry out the terms of the declaration in order to scale up the sexuality education in their respective countries.
William A. Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, commented that the landmark Declaration “marked a significant development in moving comprehensive sexuality education to the forefront of efforts to stop the transmission of HIV.”
“The Ministers of Health and Education from Latin America and the Caribbean have vowed to stand with the growing body of evidence that shows that comprehensive sex education is an important and necessary foundation in our global efforts to end sexual transmission of HIV,” Smith continued.
A working group is being established to help shepherd the implementation of the commitments in the Declaration. Going forward, civil society will most assuredly take a front seat in ensuring the Declaration’s promise is realized.
For further insight on this Declaration, read this blog on RH Reality Check
[i] “Why are We Still Failing Our Young People?” United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, 31 July 2008, accessed on 21 August 2008, http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=43224&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
[ii] “Ministerial Summit On HIV Shows High Level Of Commitment, Says PAHO,” Medical News Today, 23 June 2008, accessed on 21 August 2008, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/112406.php
[iii] “1st Meeting of Ministers of Health and Education to Stop HIV and STIs in Latin America and the Caribbean: Preventing Through Education,” 1 August 2008, http://data.unaids.org/pub/BaseDocument/2008/20080801_minsterdeclaration_en.pdf