Opening Address

BY Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia at the HEAIDS Summit:

Higher education: Are we turning the tide towards the new NSP 2012-2016 - Critical considerations,

28 November 2011, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth

Ladies and Gentlemen, I need to begin first with a profuse apology from the Honourable Deputy Mininster of Higher Education and Training, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, who is unfortunately unable to be with us in person today as she had so looked forward to be. The Deputy Minister has had to honour a commitment in Algeria. But we are privileged still to have the Deputy Minister officially represented here in the person of the Department’s Chief Director of University Policy and Development,  Mr Mahlubi Mabizela.  Mr Mabizela has been mandated to present the address the Deputy Minister had planned for our Summit.

We are honoured to have you representing the Deputy Minister Mr Mabizela. Thank you and welcome

Our host, the Vice Chancellor of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Professor Derrick Swartz,

The Deputy Chairperson of the South African National Aids Council, Mr Mark Heywood,

Chairperson of the HESA-HEAIDS Strategic Group and Vice Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, Professor Brian O’ Connell,

esteemed guests …

Allow me to emphasise that at the outset this Summit of the Higher Education HIV/AIDS Programme is hugely significant in that all 23 of South Africa’s public Higher Education Institutions are represented here today by their dedicated HIV/AIDS structures and programmes.

So to the chairpersons and members of the HIV Coordinating Committees from each institution, the very backbone of the HEAIDS programme, I extend a very special acknowledgement and welcome.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I had the privilege of meeting with many of you earlier this year when I undertook visits to each and every one of our 23 public Higher Education institutions to report on the outcomes of the 2008/09 Sero-Prevalence study as well as on a Gap Analysis of requirements for HIV/AIDS Workplace Programmes, and to consider with you strategies going forward. I had the pleasure and immense benefit as well on the occasion, to meet and to discuss these matters with the Vice Chancellors of each institution.

It became clear as an outcome of this round of institutional consultations that HEAIDS as a national programme with a national mandate, required a national platform from which to plot the way forward in our ongoing efforts to mitigate the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Hence we are here today to pool our particular experiences and perspectives in informing a national approach that in turn will benefit us each locally.

Of course as the Higher Education sector we are also part of broader society, and what we do or do not do in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS at our institutions, undoubtedly has far reaching ramifications for society. So for this broader framing of our efforts as a sector, we relate to the National Strategic Plan for HIV, STIs and TB, which is the banner theme of our Summit today: “Are we turning the tide towards the new NSP 2012-2016?”

There is a simple truth in this relationship of consequence between ourself as a Higher Education community and the broader national community. It is the simple truth that HIV/AIDS is everybody’s pandemic. It is not just individually yours or yours who is HIV positive or living with AIDS, but everybody’s. We are all affected and we must all own the responsibility to do what it takes to stem and overcome the pandemic.

This message is brought home clearly to us by the United Nation’s declaration of a World AIDS Day when humanity unites across the globe to remember the tens of millions who have lost their lives in what is the greatest public health crisis of our times, and re-dedicates itself to overcoming the pandemic and its multiple and varied consequences.

So it is fitting that we meet here today, on the eve of World AIDS Day, when South Africa’s 2012-2016 National Strategic Plan for HIV, STIs and TB is to be launched, to critically reflect on our role and contribution as a sector to the goals of the national and global effort. It is only through a united, focused effort of scale that we can achieve the necessary impacts to turn the tide.

I am proud to say that as a sector we have not been lacking in our contribution to the development of the 2012-2016 National Strategic Plan. HEAIDS, on your behalf, has been involved in all the consultation processes within all the relevant structures of SANAC through the course of the year, and our input has been well received.  We are honoured today to have the representative of the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Mahlubi Mabizela, participate in this Summit with us to share an eagle’s eye perspective of the national landscape and of Higher Education in relation to the matters before us and, Mr Mark Heywood, the Deputy Chairperson of SANAC, to relay provisions of the National Strategic Plan and considerations that have relevance to the particular topics of our summit.

The five cross cutting topics of our Summit are the substantive areas that arose from my institutional visits this year, and we will have the benefit of presentations and discussions on each, led by members of the HEAIDS Task Team. To Teolene Foster, Sandile Phakathi, Leon Roets, Naydene de Lange, Cal Volks and Nazeema Mohamed I say thank you for this.

Among some of the pointers to these topics that arose from my visits, was the need for our programmes to embrace service and administrative staff who have the highest prevalence of HIV among the higher education community. This raises the question of workplace policies and programmes as well as the role of institutional leadership and staff leadership, which together with other categories  of higher education leadership,  are generally held to be insufficiently strong and committed.

Behaviour change issues, particularly among our students who form part of the age demographic that is most vulnerable to HIV infection, requires a deeper social and cultural understanding to register better success. Amongst other things this impacts on the need for more innovative communication strategies. But vital in the arsenal to mitigate the pandemic at institutional level and correspondingly in society as our students graduate, is the integration of HIV/AIDS in the curriculum.

These focal areas of our Summit are key pillars of our comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS and we need to engage them with a view to ensuring a shared commitment to them and to identifying and overcoming the challenges in the way of their successful implementation.  We look to Professor Brian O’

Connell, the Chairperson of the HESA-HEAIDS Strategic Group, to contextualize these discussions for us at an institutional level.

Let me also take this opportunity to say that we have begum preparations for the roll out of the First Things First campaign across our institutions in the new year and time will be allocated in our programme today for a specific briefing of practicalities related to this.

In conclusion, I take heart that as a sector we have achieved much since at least 2000 when a number of programmes were founded at Higher Education Institutions and on which basis HEAIDS was established. These achievements cover the areas of capacity development; advocacy; prevention programmes; voluntary counseling and testing; treatment, care and support; curriculum development; workplace programmes; community outreach; research; and monitoring and evaluation. There is much to be strengthened and much to be done but we stand on a solid platform to do this. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have had a historical association with HEAIDS for the solid foundation that they have laid and that this Summit is committed to build on.

Thank you.