HEAIDS Director's Message for First Year Students and the Higher Education and Training Community

Dear FIRST year Students;

As we begin the year the Higher Education and Training HIV/TB/STI programme on behalf of DHET wishes to extend a warm welcome to all staff and students in the post school sector. We wish to extend a special welcome to all those that will be joining our Universities and our Colleges for the first time.

But few key notes for you all to remember as you embark a new journey:

1. Young adults have greater independence and freedom that relies on their inner strength and wisdom for guidance.

Attending an institution of higher learning marks a new phase in the development of an independent individual where there is no longer tight supervision but a young person’s prerogative to use individual discipline and wisdom to navigate life. There is also exposure to leisure and entertainment culture that poses a number of vulnerabilities for young adults entering this new environment that need to be highlighted.

2. As a sector we are vulnerable to the epidemics such as HIV, TB, STI and Gender base Violence

It is our duty to address major public health issues of our day such as HIV/AIDS issues affecting our youth and our population. Equally other Micro-epidemics of TB/STI along with other general health and wellness issues that includes Risk factors such as substance and alcohol abuse, and such mitigation requirements as good nutrition, exercise and medical and psychological care are examples that call for a response to our young people to be protected. It is also high time where the sector recognises other pandemics and health challenges that are slowly evolving under the HIV umbrella; Diabetes, Cancer, Cardio-vascular risk problems and others like rape, teenage Pregnancies, Stigma of LGBTI Population, Transactional Sex are few worth mentioning engulfing our youth.

It is a fundamental part of our efforts to ensure that we openly discuss and empower young people entering our institution about HIV/AIDS and the debilitating effect it can have on a person’s wellbeing to safeguard our countries future economy. South Africa has the highest infection rate in the world with 6.8 million people estimated to be living with HIV and young people are the most affected. Evidence has shown that age group 16-23 are the most vulnerable for new infections in our nation. Income and gender inequality, gender-based violence and harmful cultural practices heighten (increase) the HIV related risk especially for young people. As a sector we are vulnerable to the epidemics such as HIV, TB and STI therefore it is our duty to address these health issues along with other general health and wellness issues. It is a fundamental part of our efforts to ensure that we openly discuss and empower young people entering our institution to safeguard our countries future economy.

3. Behave in a way that protects you

Take responsibility to ensure that you are well informed about HIV/TB/STI’s so that you can behave in a way that does not expose you and protects you from the risk of contracting HIV.
• Do not rush into being sexually active. It is acceptable to delay being sexually active.
• Use a condom if you are sexually active. Do not have unprotected sex.
• Be faithful to a single partner and be aware of the risks to yourself and your partner by infidelity.
• Avoid multiple and concurrent sexual partners.

4. Avoid factors that compromise safe behaviour

Practice safe behaviour in order to avoid finding ourselves compromised in some ways. We need students and staff to be careful of drug and alcohol abuse which compromise an individual’s faculties to behave in a safe and responsible manner. Young people in particular are vulnerable to much older people who may sexually exploit them by enticing them with money, cars and/status and thereby exposing them to risk factors. We need to make them aware of such relationships that are HIV/AIDS infection risk factors.

5. Our institution is committed to the values of caring and support for all

We are committed to the values of caring and supporting all those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS by advocating against all forms of stigmatisation and myths. We also support key populations (LGBTI and Disability) against discrimination by others and advocate that the correct information and facts are communicated for the support of all humanity. Part of our obligation is to ensure that all our staff, students and communities become powerful change agents that are equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves and those around them.

6. Equip yourself for your role and obligation in society

Knowledge on HIV/AIDS is important because losing the life of a young person starting at an institution makes the entire family vulnerable to all sorts of societal ills that could break the cycle of poverty. Part of our obligation is to ensure that the staff, student and institutional community are equipped to protect themselves and others from HIV/TB/STI and are appropriately treated and cared for.

7. Make use of First Things First Programme, Institutional Peer educational programmes other HEAIDS services regularly.

Science has clearly shown that testing HIV early and taking good care/ treatment and support can ensure a long, healthy and successful life for everyone living with the disease if treated early and now HIV has just become like any other chronic disease. But for those who are negative, it is our responsibility to remain negative.
We encourage you to participate in our institutional First Things First HIV/TB/STI and all wellness free screening/testing services held regularly at our campuses; become Peers to other and support other fellow youth both within institution and outside to be protected from all the social and health challenges surrounding our nation. Make use of the services rendered and institutions that you can be referred too.

Thank you for your support to HEAIDS and help us ensuring you all young students remains safe, educated, knowledgeable and above all good citizens in our nation.

We therefore urge all institutions including lecturers, staff and students to take responsibility by ensuring that they are well informed.

Sincerely,

Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia

MBChB MBA (UCT) PhD (Public Health)

Director & Head

Higher Education and Training Programme