This was part of the provincial launch of the HEAIDS Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS (HEAIDS) 2016 First Things First (HIV, STIs and TB) programme undertaken by the higher education and training sector.
Championed by the Department of Higher Education and Training, HEAIDS, which implements the First Things First programme, is a national initiative. It is devoted to advancing health education and awareness of HIV, STIs, TB and other related health and social conditions that set back progress by young people.
The programme is led by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana.
HIV prevalence in Mpumalanga is estimated to be second only to KwaZulu-Natal, which has the highest in the country. Long distance truck drivers, as well as migrant workers serving the mining, agriculture and forestry industries are among those fingered in the high HIV prevalence rate. This, accompanied by unemployment and alcohol abuse, makes the youth in the area more susceptible to contracting the disease.
It also impacts on college and university through-put rates, drop-outs and poor graduate competency levels, thereby affecting the sector and economy in general.
HEAIDS Director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia said First Things First, now in its 6th successful year, speaks to the first priority of every young South African to look after their health and wellbeing.
“The 2015 First Things First data has shown that more than 175 000 young people were screened and tested for HIV. The programme was also a critical intervention to this population as it brought essential sexual reproductive health and rights services within students’ easy access,” said Ahluwalia.
Ahluwalia said since Mpumalanga is a mining region and borders Swaziland and Mozambique, it is critical for the HEAIDS programme to strengthen lobbying for partners that will screen students for TB, as there is potential for it to grow as an epidemic in such an area.
Healthy students vital for economy
Deputy Minister Manana said healthy and productive graduates are the cornerstone of a healthy economy.
“Universities and colleges provide the ideal environment within which to improve students’ knowledge about HIV, STIs, TB and other health conditions, and to promote testing and services to protect and care for young people.
“The higher education and training sector is in a unique position to lead a movement that achieves this from the inside, as well as through links with all other stakeholders that provide health services in South Africa.
“The youth in these colleges are our future leaders and we can guide them to make the right choices. Ultimately their health is in their hands,” said Deputy Minister Manana.