Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana, has launched the 2017 First Things First campaign in the Western Cape aimed at bringing HIV testing, counselling and education directly to students on campuses, as well as provide screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and TB.

“The future prosperity of our country depends on the students in our higher education institutions. They are our future leaders. It is critical that we equip them with the knowledge and skills to remain HIV negative and healthy,” said Manana.

“First Things First has enjoyed great success in this area and I am pleased to be launching its 2017 campaign,” continued Manana.

First Things First is an initiative by the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS). 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.

“In 2016 alone we provided testing and counselling for more than 160,000 students throughout South Africa’s 429 higher education campuses,” said Director of HEAIDS, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia.

“Our vision is to have zero new HIV and TB infections in our higher education institutions. First Things First forms a key part of that vision,” continued Dr Ahluwalia.

Dr Ahluwalia highlighted the importance of extending testing services to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. “TVET colleges often lack adequate facilities and resources for testing and counselling students,” explained Dr Ahluwalia.

A study of TVET colleges in 2014 found that more than a quarter of students surveyed only used condoms if requested to do so by their sexual partners. More than a third of students felt that they could not ask their partners to get tested for STIs without being accused of infidelity.

Given that women aged 15 to 24 are nearly twice as likely to become infected with HIV, compared to any other age and gender group, changing norms around testing is vital to reducing the spread of the pandemic.

In addition to HIV, STI and TB services, First Things First offers screening, treatment and support for a wide range of general health issues including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular health and cancer. The campaign also provides family planning, dual contraception, reproductive- and maternal health services to students in need.

“The data shows us that a holistic approach to HIV prevention is far more effective than addressing any single factor alone,” said Dr Ahluwalia.

“This is why we are committed to reaching all two million young people in our higher education institutions with First Things First,” continued Dr Ahluwalia.

“The First Things First programme reminds us that we have one responsibility above all others – to look after ourselves,” said Manana.

“The higher education and training sector is in a unique position to lead a movement against HIV and to create champions who can carry the message into their communities. Together, we can defeat the HIV pandemic,” concluded Manana.

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