HEAIDS Women and Girls empowerment Zazi Programme campaign activates at Walter Sisulu University

East London, 16 October 2014 – HEAIDS’ First things First HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB campaign today went to the Walter Sisulu University (WSU). A flagship programme of HEAIDS, First Things First is a public-private initiative implemented in collaboration with other organisation.

 Now in its fourth year, the annual First Things First campaign encourages students at tertiary institutions – and especially incoming first year students – to take responsibility for knowing their HIV status and to take charge of their overall health and wellbeing.

 HEAIDS Women’s health and empowerment Zazi programme is implemented in partnership with Departments of Health, Social Development, and Women, the Global Fund, South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and is supported by the SANAC Women’s Sector, Men’s Sector, the USAID/JHU HIV Communication Programme, and other stakeholders.

 “Today we launch the HEAIDS Women’s Health-Zazi Programme at the University of Walter Sisulu. The key goal of this higher education and training sector initiative is to tackle gender imbalances and reduce the vulnerability of young women and girls to HIV. They are the population group most at risk of HIV infection and it is a national priority to protect them,” says Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, Director of the Higher Education & Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS).

 Research has shown that low use of condoms and other contraceptives among young women. The age of first pregnancy is getting younger, teen pregnancy rates are far too high, and there is an alarming degree of transactional sex between younger women and older men. This happens at universities and colleges.

 “The programme is aimed at addressing the decreasing vulnerability to HIV, other STIs and TB. They are risks faced every day by young women and girls in South Africa,” continues Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia,

 The high levels of violence against women increase their risk of HIV infection. “We have an obligation. There is a huge need for awareness and engagement with our young women, with men, and with service providers and leaders to improve women’s overall health. We have to help them prevent and where needed treat cervical and breast cancer. We need to help women access and use reproductive services,” argues Dr Ahluwalia

 Well known radio personality, motivational speaker and HIV activist, Criselda Kananda delivered a heartfelt speech and urged students at the university to know their status. She also reminded them that they are more powerful than they think they are and have a power to say NO! Ms Nova, who is a poet, encouraged students with one of her conscientious poems.

 Dr Ahluwalia and Criselda Kananda were joined by university students and academic leadership on a walkabout around the campus encouraging students who were taking their HIV tests and TB screening. "We have already seen an increase in the lifespan of South Africans which is a direct result of people who are taking charge of their health. Those who are HIV-positive are getting treatment. We are not only treating these individuals, however. Having large numbers of people who are HIV-positive taking treatment and supressing the level of HIV in their body helps to protect their partners and decrease new infections,” concludes Dr Ahluwalia. 

 

 

Issued on behalf of HEAIDS by Meropa Communications. For information and interviews, contact Zenzele Bam, email zenzeleb@meropa.co.za, telephone 0115067300.