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AIDS-Education Programs Fall Short, Auditor Reports

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Two new reports by the U.S. General Accounting Office assert that there has been limited progress in providing high-quality aids education to adolescents.

The reports, released last week, conclude that aids-education programs in public schools require more teacher training and evaluation and that the federal government is failing to provide aids education for out-of-school youths, who may be at high risk for contracting the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which oversees most of the federal aids-education effort (and which was the main target of the reports), will spend $45 million this year on prevention programs. The President's budget earmarks $52 million for such efforts in fiscal year 1991, $24 million less than the cdc had requested.

The first report, which examined aids-education efforts in public-school districts, concludes that "cdc-led nationwide education efforts are not yet commensurate with the epidemic's potential for disaster."

The report is based on the results of a telephone survey of 232 randomly selected school districts and the 13 local districts directly funded by the cdc because they have high aids caseloads.

The study found that two-thirds of the public-school districts surveyed provided aids education. Only 5 percent of these districts, however, offered aids-education at every grade level, as recommended by the cdc

The report suggests that students may not be receiving information about aids when they are most likely to be sexually active. Students in the districts surveyed, it says, were about five times more likely to receive aids education in the 7th grade than in 11th or 12th grade.

Most of the districts that did not offer aids education had fewer than 450 students, according to the report. These districts often cited conservative community values and insufficient school time as reasons for not teaching the subject.

The report also contends that teachers have not received adequate instruction about aids and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes it.

Seventeen percent of the teachers who were responsible for aids instruction had received no training, according to the report. Most teachers in districts that required aids education had received inservice training on4how to teach about aids, but this training was not as extensive as districts would have liked and was far less comprehensive than what the cdc recommends.

The report argues that the data collected by state and local education agencies on students' sexual knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors is inadequate.

Only 8 of the 70 education agencies that had received grants from the cdc collected adequate information, it says. Without adequate information, the report adds, it will be difficult for educators to determine if their aids-education programs are successful.

In the second report, the gao concluded that the "cdc has accomplished little in providing hiv education to out-of-school youth."

Such efforts are critical, the report argues, because the 9 million youths between the ages of 14 and 21 who are not in school are thought to be at especially high risk of being exposed to the aids virus.

The report concludes that a plan by the cdc branch responsible for aids education to fund local health departments and community organizations to provide outreach to these youths would duplicate an existing cdc program. It recommends that the two programs be merged.

The reports were compiled at the request of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on the findings last week. At the hearing, gao officials said the reports suggest that not much is known about the effectiveness of aids-education programs.

"We don't have a good handle on what's working and how," said Mark V. Nadel, the associate director for national and public-health issues at the gao

Cdc officials underscored the need for more education. They said the results of new a national study of patients admitted to 26 hospitals nationwide found that 1 in 1,000 adolescents tested positive for hiv

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