National

Schools plan HIV-awareness classes to battle rise in STDs

About 80 secondary schools in 10 prefectures are planning to teach students about ways in which to prevent HIV infection and AIDS this academic year, government officials said Thursday.

The move forms part of a government project aimed at stopping the spread of HIV among youths, they said.

Junior high and high schools involved in the project, led by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, will conduct sex-awareness surveys among students before devising suitable lesson plans for the second semester, which begins in September, the officials told Kyodo News.

The government is concerned about the growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among teens, particularly HIV infection, which is difficult to detect initially as it has a long incubation period.

Approximately 80 schools, both public and private, have agreed to take part in the project in response to requests mailed by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to municipalities in about 40 prefectures.

The officials did not disclose the names of schools and municipalities taking part in the project.

By the end of the first academic term later this month, some 20,000 students will have been asked to respond to a sex-awareness questionnaire featuring questions on STD prevention and how these illnesses are transmitted.

The government will hold workshops in August where teachers will come up with lesson plans based on the survey results. The teachers will conduct classes on the issues in the second term.

If the lessons prove effective, the project will be expanded to more schools, the officials said. The students will be surveyed again in December to see whether the classes have helped them learn about the issues at hand, they added.

Masako Kihara, who serves as associate professor of social epidemiology at Kyoto University and created the basic teaching materials for the class, said the lessons are “aimed at letting the children become aware they are also at risk of infection.”

Teachers are free to exclude certain teaching materials they believe the students may not be ready for and to add items they feel may be useful in accordance with students’ awareness, the officials said.

The materials include explanations and graphs concerning STDs, abortion and prevention methods.

According to the health ministry, there has been at least one new intercourse-related HIV infection reported each year since 1991 among people aged between 15 and 19. In 2003, a record seven new cases were reported.

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