False Bay TVET College students put First Things First

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, 14 October 2015 – The False Bay TVET College in Khayelitsha 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/STIs and 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 easily 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, and gender and LGBTI relations.

All HEAIDS programmes are tailor-made to meet the specific needs of youth in higher education institutions from urban to rural areas. Today’s activation will benefit some 600 students from the False Bay TVET – as well as their peers and the surrounding community. The initiative provides them access at no cost and at their doorstep to health-related services including HIV counselling and testing and reproductive and family planning choices.The need for such initiatives is evident: the SA National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey (2012) indicates that 7.1% of youth aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV. Worryingly, the same most-at-risk group has also been decreasing the use of condoms – which increases the risk of HIV infection. The survey also notes a significant escalation in HIV prevalence in the older age group (25.2% among 25 to 49 olds).

Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister Manana stressed that healthy and productive graduates are one of the cornerstones of a healthy economy.“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. College students are our future leaders and we can guide them to make the right choices – but ultimately it is in their hands,” said Mr Manana.

His emphasis and priority for the HEAIDS programme is to engage with students who attend TVET colleges situated in communities that have limited health resources and services. These he believes provide the ideal environment within which to improve knowledge about HIV, STIs and TB and to promote testing and other services to protect and care for young people.

Director of HEAIDS, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia explained: “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.” 

“We also want to highlight that the comprehensive package of health services 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,” said Dr Ahluwalia.