Friday, January 19, 2018

"HIV-positive pupils were infected at birth"

...not through sexual contact, says Education Ministry

The five primary school pupils who tested positive for HIV last year did not contract the virus through sexual activity.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia sought to make this clear  during a news conference today at the Ministry of Education, St Vincent Street, Port of Spain.

He was responding to statements made at a Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting earlier this week where it was revealed that 5 pupils were discovered to be infected with HIV.

The pupils - two boys, aged eight and 11, and three girls, aged seven, nine and ten, are currently receiving treatment.

It was not disclosed during the JSC how the children would have contracted the virus.

 Garcia dispelled the notion that the children had been engaged in any sexual activity and said they were infected at birth.

He said the Ministry knew about the situation for some time.

“Those students contracted the disease at birth. It had nothing to do with any STD as a result of sexual activity among school children.”

He added since the information was carried in the news, he had received many phone calls from worried parents who were concerned that there might be an “epidemic” in the schools.

He however said the situation is being handled according to established protocols.

Garcia said the Ministry of Health is providing treatment to the children and they remain in the school system as no child would be discriminated against and prevented from getting an education because of their HIV status.

“There is inclusion in the education system,” he said. “Every child must have access to education regardless of any affliction...”

Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan said there is strict confidentiality to ensure that the pupils are not stigmatised.

The school principals and those charged with caring for the pupils would be the only ones aware of their HIV positive status, he said. He added that there is a clear procedure to ensure that other students and members of staff are not at risk.

However speaking with reporters following the conference, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA) Lynsley Doodhai said he was not aware of there being any established protocols to guide school officials on how to treat with HIV positive pupils who may get injured during play and expose other students and staff to their blood.

“As an educator, as a teacher, as a principal, we know that there are certain things that you must do if a child gets injured in the school or on the school compound. But in terms of clear cut established protocols from the Ministry of Education, I'm not aware of it,” he said.

He said he was concerned about this.

“But the Ministry of Education assured that the protocols are there so we are asking that they be re-issued to our schools so we can move forward to ensure that the right thing is done if a child is injured, moreso a child who is HIV positive or the carrier of a sexually transmitted disease.”