Students at Wits University. File Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso / African News Agency / ANA

Johannesburg - South Africa has made significant progress in the fight against HIV/Aids, the UNAIDS Global Aids Update report shows. 

The report was released at an event in Eshowe on Tuesday. The report said South Africa had made “huge advances” and had successfully reduced new HIV infections by more than 40% and AIDS-related deaths by around 40% since 2010.

The report said young women were still 60% more likely to become infected with HIV than young men of the same age, but also said there had been success in reducing new HIV infections among young women. 

“Globally, new HIV infections among young women (aged 15–24 years) were reduced by 25% between 2010 and 2018, compared to a 10% reduction among older women (aged 25 years and older). But it remains unacceptable that every week 6200 adolescent girls and young women become infected with HIV,” it said. 

The University of Johannesburg said it had a low HIV prevelance rate among staff and students - at 1% - and said the rate had been low for over a decade. 

UJ’s head of the Institutional Office for HIV & AIDS (IOHA), Rainny Nkhatho, said students and staff could screen for HIV, TB or sexually transmitted infections daily on the various campuses. Testing campaigns reached 36% of staff and 20% of the student population, she said.

“Even though universities have low prevalence of HIV, students still engage in behaviour that predisposes them to the risk of HIV, they therefore cannot afford to be complacent in addressing the social drivers that fuel the epidemic,” she said. 

“Addressing Social Drivers for HIV is important in the battle against the epidemic. UNAIDS 90-90-90 strategy and S.A. NDOH 2016-2021 strategic frameworks, requires that all sectors including higher education develop and support the HIV mitigation programmes. For that reason, UJ has an institutional coordinating committee, which comprises of university management, academics and support staff, to monitor the university’s response to the epidemic,” added Nkhatho.  

The university also provided psychosocial care and support for students who are positively diagnosed.

“We have an agreement with Right to Care, which is now under ANOVA health care to refer our students to them for speedily assistance as they cannot afford to be long queues due to academic commitments.

“Additionally, UJ through IOHA then offers students care and support in a form of one on one contact with the nurse or peer buddy or social club which meets once a quarter. Leadership and governance of any programme is important for its sustainability, it is for that reason that the university has established an office, which, is tasked to oversee the coordination and implementation of the HIV prevention, care and support programme,” said Nkhatho. 

She said the university also had a Primary Health Care clinic in each campus where those on treatment were encouraged to utilize the clinic when not feeling well or experiencing side effects. 

“This is also used for referral to ART sites while awaiting treatment to be provided on campus,” she said.

At the University of Witwatersrand, spokesperson Refilwe Mabula said the university had a holistic approach for the wellness staff and students.

“The management of chronic and lifestyle diseases is part of our wellness strategy. Students who have tested positive to HIV are referred to the Wits Research Institute Adolescent Clinic if they are below 24-years-old, those who are 25 and above are referred to Hillbrow HIV Clinic or Thembalethu Clinic at Hellen Joseph (or a public clinic of their choice),” she said.

“Students on medical aid can choose a medical doctor of their choice or the private medical practitioner on campus. Students also receive additional psychosocial support on campus through the division of student affairs in order to ensure their academic success and overall well-being,” said Mabula.

She said the university’s HIV/AIDS programme predated the HEAIDS national structure and said the university offered support by:

-          Campus Health and Wellness Centre offers services to treat opportunistic infections, STI’s and sexual & reproductive health care. Also offered is medical information in terms of one-on one- patient support and workshops etc so that individuals make healthy choices.

-          Students who test positive are further referred to the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) to receive ongoing therapeutic support. This is usually face-to-face counselling. Group support was offered at a point; but students are not always comfortable in this setting.

-          The Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach programme (WCCO) provides food parcels if a student requires nutritional support.

At UJ, the following services were also provided: 

HIV Prevention, Care and Support; Health Promotion; Wellness screening; Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR); Awareness Campaigns and programmes (for marginalized communities (LGBTQI+, People with Disabilities, Women); Men; Addressing Risky behaviour (drug and alcohol abuse, sex parties, GBV etc.), and Teaching and Learning.

The Sunday Independent