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A commitment to efforts to curb the spread the HIV/Aids and the rampant rape culture and sex for marks trend that has gripped many tertiary institutions was reinforced at the provincial launch of the Higher Education AIDS (HEAIDS) First Things First Campaign at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University yesterday.

Nelson Mandela Bay deputy mayor Cllr Mongameli Bobani (left) has a chat with Higher Education and Training deputy minister Mduduzi Manana (centre) at the provincial launch of the First Things First Campaign at NMMU yesterday. Next to them is NMMU Dean of Students Luthando Jack.

The launch event, at which Higher Education deputy minister Mduduzi Manana was keynote speaker, saw hundreds of students from Eastern Cape universities and TVET colleges gathered at the University’s Goldfields Auditorium, on North Campus. Also present were representatives from the Nelson Mandela Metro and the provincial Health Department.

First Things First is one of numerous initiatives of the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), mandated by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and brings HIV testing and STI screening, counselling and HIV-prevention education directly to students on campuses.

Statistics show that a staggering 80% of new HIV infections are among the age group of 15 to 24 year olds – under which college and university students fall – and that nearly half the country’s youth population is living with HIV/Aids.

Addressing the students, Manana said there were a number of phenomena affecting students in the higher education sphere that have been identified as contributors to the worrying statistics; namely the concept of blessers and/or “spicy mommies” who are effectively older men and women preying on economically vulnerable young people.

“We launched this programme a few years ago because we felt that while the core business of universities and colleges, among other things, is teaching and learning, it was important to look at many other factors which would easily hinder one’s success,” he said.

“Our view was that it wouldn’t make sense to focus primarily on teaching and learning without prioritising other things that could hinder students’ success.

“My motto is ‘it can only be a healthy nation that breeds a healthy economy’”.

Manana said there were numerous interventions under the department’s umbrella that work towards encouraging healthy choices among students, including the Brothers For Life campaign that targets male students and academic staff.

“[We are] trying to cultivate them to be better fathers of tomorrow because you can’t have a male university student going about raping girls. At times, though, this comes from lecturers so there is also a culture of sex for marks,” he said.

He said while the phenomenon of “sex for marks” had been suppressed for many years, it was thrust to the fore during the student protests of recent years and has forced the department to develop a policy to assist institutions in dealing with the issue.

“We had to engage with our universities and colleges, particularly universities, and we realised that they don’t really have a response plan to this problem,” he said.

A 15-member task team – which includes members of the South African Police Service and National Prosecuting Authority – has since been appointed to develop a response policy. A preliminary report will be presented in August “so that at least by the end of this year, we could have a policy but also a clearer responsive mechanism for institutions on this”.

Now in its seventh year, First Things First has tested nearly 500 000 students for HIV and screened a similar number for TB and STIs. About 160 000 students were assisted in 2016 alone, with HEAIDS’s ultimate goal being to reach all two million students and to help create an HIV-free generation.

The programme also provides family planning, dual contraception, reproductive and maternal health services to students in need and has distributed more than 15-million male and female condoms. It also offers screening, treatment and support for a wide range of other health issues including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular health and cancer.

Radio personality and motivational speaker Chriselda Kananda-Dudumashe, who was diagnosed with HIV 19 years ago, is the campaign ambassador and gave a sobering address, urging students to look after themselves and strive for healthy living.

HEAIDS director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia said: “A holistic approach to HIV prevention is simply more effective than addressing any single factor. [An] impact study by the HSRC has shown that the integration of general health services with HIV testing has strengthened the relevance of the entire programme.”

NMMU, through the Campus Health Services, has been part of the national campaign since its inception in 2011 and is to date the only university in the country accredited to administer an antiretroviral (ARV) programme.

NMMU Dean of Students, Luthando Jack, said hosting such a programme was in line with the University’s commitment to fighting the scourge of HIV/Aids, related diseases and other social ills such as the abuse of drugs, sexual violence and gender discrimination.

“We see this as part of efforts towards conscientising and educating and bringing awareness to students that it is important to take charge of their lives,” he said.

“We must be the masters of our own fates and must be our own liberators from the scourge of HIV and related diseases as well as social ills like drug abuse, sexual violence and gender exploitation.”

Jack said the University re-commits itself to collaborating in the national campaign, adding that NMMU’s contribution will build on strides made over the years.

“We will continue with our daily roll-out of HIV counselling and testing, management of opportunistic infections and the provision of antiretroviral treatment programme that currently provides care and support to 133 patients,” he said.

“We will continue to provide our HIV positive patients with a comprehensive support and we are happy to report DM that these students are graduating and are able to realise their life choices through education.

“We will continue to strengthen partnerships for our nutrition programme as part of our response to student hunger.”

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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Tel: 0415042777