Students in Lichtenburg put First Things First

Lichtenburg, North West, 18 September 2015 – The Taletso College in Lichtenburg was today the site for the provincial activation of the student health programme, First Things First.

 The event was led by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Mduduzi Manana, who engaged with students and representatives from the college, the municipality, provincial government and Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS programme (HEAIDS) to promote student health and wellness.

 HEAIDS is a national collaboration that is devoted to advancing education and awareness of HIV/TB/STI 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.

First Things First is being rolled out across 429 campuses of the 50 public technical vocational education and training colleges (TVETs) and 23 universities to benefit about two million students.

The initiative enables youth to protect themselves from HIV, TB and STI infections and facilitates a referral process for appropriate treatment. It also works to address social factors which put the health of youth at risk, including alcohol and substance abuse, women empowerment, LGTI programme and gender relations.

Today’s activation will benefit some 1 500 students from Taletso TVET by giving them access to health-related services including HIV counselling and testing and reproductive and family planning choices at no cost to the students at their door step

All HEAIDS programmes are tailor-made to meet the specific needs of youth in higher education institutions from urban to rural areas. This also benefits the families and communities in these localities. 

The need for such initiatives is evident: research shows that over half of the world’s young population infected with HIV lives in Eastern and Southern Africa. (Source: SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012). Worryingly, the same most-at-risk group has also been decreasing the use of condoms – which increases the risk of HIV infection.

The Deputy Minister’s emphasis and priority have been colleges situated in communities that have scarce health resources, such as rural areas. 

Speaking at today’s event, Deputy Minister Manana stressed that healthy and productive graduates are one of the cornerstones of a healthy economy: Universities and colleges provide the ideal environment within which to improve knowledge about HIV, other STIs and TB and to promote testing and other services to protect and care for young people. 

“We each have one responsibility above all others – firstly it is to ourselves. Our sector is in a unique position to lead a movement that achieves this from the inside, as well as through links with all other spheres of South Africa. The youth in these colleges are our future leaders and we can guide them to make the right choices – but ultimately it is in their hands,” said Mr Manana.

“In the first six months of this year alone, First Things First has helped over 100 000 young people learn their HIV status and use this as a stepping stone for protecting their health since they also received screening and if needed treatment for other STIs and TB,” said Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, director of HEAIDS.

“But today we want to highlight that the comprehensive package of health services also includes contraception. The high number of unplanned pregnancies among South African girls and young women is a huge concern. Through our HEAIDS programme we want to intensify efforts to provide women with information and choices to take charge of their reproductive and overall health,” concluded Dr Ahluwalia.