First things first milestone

First Things First, a student-focused initiative of the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS programme (HEAIDS) has since January 2015 mobilised 100 000 students to test for HIV. The initiative has exceeded last year’s results by reaching the same milestone in the first half of the year.

Aimed at the South African youth in higher education and training institutions, it promotes awareness and health-seeking behaviour among some 2 million students across 76 public universities and TVETs around the country.

“Our youth are the country’s future economic and human resource because among them will be doctors, bankers, teachers, policy makers and artisans. It is the programme’s mandate to safeguard this population by ensuring that we encourage them to take their health seriously,” says HEAIDS director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia.First Things First targets first-year students who tend to be more vulnerable as they enter higher education institutions from different communities with varied levels of awareness about HIV/AIDS. Among them also lies the group with the highest prevalence of HIV infections in the country – people aged 15-24.

“We are happy that so many young people have responded to our campaigns and embraced HIV testing facilities because it indicates that they have recognised the importance of the service and taken ownership of their health and futures. It’s encouraging to know that we are providing these young adults with the support they need,” says HEAIDS director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia. 

Although the priority for the programme is HIV/AIDS, young people on 429 campuses reached by HEAIDS also have access to other services including STI and TB screening, circumcision, contraception as well as guidance on gender-based violence and other social issues impacting on them. HEAIDS strengthens public-private partnerships, and in collaboration with campus-based health and wellness networks helps tomorrow’s leaders pursue healthier lifestyles.

“HEAIDS welcomes these important results but we also recognise that there is a lot to be done to ensure that we help to change the destinies of youth – especially those in marginalised communities, We encourage every parent and young person to play an active role in participating in our programmes” says Dr Ahluwalia.

 HEAIDS is a national collaboration that is devoted to promoting education and awareness of HIV and other related health and social factors that set back progress by young people. Championed by the Department of Higher Education and Training, HEAIDS ensures that education, information and access to products such as condoms and services for testing, prevention and treatment are available within the higher education and training sector.