TV & Radio
Peer education group draws praise, criticism in AIDS fight
By YOSHIKUNI OTANI
KAWAGUCHI, Saitama Pref. (Kyodo) Yumiko Kaneko was a key figure in organizing a peer education group here 10 years ago, when junior high schools starting giving children more information about sex amid growing alarm over AIDS.
Kaneko, a 49-year-old junior high school nurse and teacher, wanted to teach minors to arm themselves with accurate information about HIV and AIDS and to convey their knowledge to fellow students.
Her group, Kawaguchi Kodomo (children's) Network, has since been working to encourage young people to learn about HIV and AIDS.
But requests for the network's assistance in teaching youth about HIV/AIDS are on the decline despite the rising number of HIV carriers across the country, particularly young people, she said.
The number of people infected with HIV or AIDS surpassed 10,000 last year, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The year marked a record in terms of both new carriers and patients reported to the ministry, with the number totaling 1,165.
Particularly striking is the rise in the number of infected people between the ages of 20 and 34. This age group accounted for 449 new cases, or about 58 percent of the total. Twelve teenagers were reported as infected.
One 16-year-old girl learned about the virus that causes AIDS as a member of the Kawaguchi Kodomo Network while in junior high school.
Now a high school student, she shared her knowledge with her classmates after a health education class. One friend asked her if AIDS could be transmitted by a kiss on the mouth. She replied, "It's dangerous if (a person) has a mouth wound."
The girl went on to explain that while the oral infectiousness of HIV is less than that of influenza viruses, people still need to be cautious.
Peer education is said to be effective in educating minors about AIDS because it is easier for young people to talk to people their own age about sexual matters.
The effort targets junior high school students who go to the health education room instead of attending classes, students appointed as homeroom representatives on the student body health committee, and graduates currently in high school.
Kaneko's former students meet once a month to learn how to keep from getting infected with HIV and AIDS, and to discuss how men and women can establish relationships in which they respect each other's feelings and bodies.
Some members have served as lecturers at gatherings organized by public health centers.
The number of requests for the network's assistance dropped markedly, however, after criticism of some schools for teaching children that using condoms was the safest means to keep from being infected by HIV.
The critics said teaching condom use was inappropriate because it could induce children to have sex.
Kaneko said one important objective of the network is to teach minors to establish relationships with people of different age groups, and to become more involved in society and with adults.
Students from a variety of backgrounds come to Kaneko's health education room, including a girl who punches school walls because she mistrusts her parents and another who is in distress because her mother is an alcoholic.
One 16-year-old had been an honor-roll student before she stopped attending classes in her third year at junior high. After graduating and enrolling in high school this spring, she has become more outgoing.
She attributed her transformation to having been a member of the network.
Kaneko said the girl comes to see her to borrow books and pamphlets that she wants classmates interested in AIDS and sex education to read.
In the past decade, more than 100 students have taken part in Kaneko's network, to which she devotes much of her free time.
The Japan Times: Dec. 10, 2005