21 February 2011

South Africa: Students Keen to Know Their Status

Students have shown a willingness to get tested for HIV and say that it is important for everyone to know their status so that if need be, people can start treatment earlier. This follows the launch of the 'First things first' HIV Counselling and Testing Campaign targeting first year tertiary level students around the country.

The Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi's talk with first year students at Wits University during the launch of the campaign certainly had an impact on some as they were seen moving swiftly to the mobile testing units on campus.

"It was very straight-forward; he told us everything we need to know and I appreciated that. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. If it was not for him, I wouldn't be getting tested now if he hadn't spoken to us", said one student.

"The statistics that he showed us were very gripping, especially that one about the abortion. It really scared me. That number was too big", said another.

The launch of the 'First things first' campaign is aimed at raising awareness on higher learning campuses about HIV/AIDS and. The launch forms part of government's HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign, whose aim is getting 15-million people tested by June this year. So far, almost six million people have been tested for HIV since the launch in 2009.

In his address to students, Motsoaledi highlighted the health challenges facing the country due to HIV/AIDS. He emphasised that HIV is prevalent in women of child-bearing age between 15 and 24 years.

"In 2004 things changed in South Africa completely. Women are dying younger. That's abnormal. Women are supposed to live longer according to biology. Even in the animal kingdom, the female species is supposed to outlive the male species. But in South Africa, HIV/AIDS has changed that. We have young women who are dying".

Speaking closely to the young students, while showing them a power point presentation, Motsoaledi addressed the issue of inter-generational sex, which has become a growing concern.

"This graph shows that early on in life there are more males (who are) HIV-positive than females. But immediately when you reach the age of 15 to 19, it changes dramatically. The female students start shooting up. They shoot so high they leave the young male students behind that males start catching up later on in life It shows inter-generational sex.

You young girls having sex with old people in any university setting when you check it's the young woman suffering. The men are still very innocent. Even in schools the pregnancies it means old men are targeting young girls", said Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi hopes that the First things first campaign will encourage responsible behaviour among the students and also encourage them to test for HIV regularly. After the Minister's address to students at Wits, I did another quick test to see if the students understand the value of testing.

"I do need to know my status, but I haven't gotten myself checked out".

"I got tested last year. I would have got tested again now because it doesn't mean just because you have done it once you are safe. You need to do it regularly", said another.

"It was encouraging for us to hear from the Minister. I've noticed that HIV is a big problem in South Africa, compared to other countries. I got tested this morning".

The Department of Higher Education and Training says they hope the campaign will become an annual event in the Orientation Programmes of South African universities.

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