2014 First Things First Campaign launched at Goldfields College

On 14 April 2014 Goldfields  College in Welkom, Free State, represented the entire further education and training sector as it launched the First Things First HIV Counselling and Testing programme that will benefit students and staff in 50 colleges across South Africa.

 Speaking at the launch, Mr Mduduzi Manana, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, said: “The implementation of First Things First in the FET sector illustrates the commitment to work with higher education and training structures countrywide to prevent HIV infections and make a meaningful contribution to the South African effort to address HIV/AIDS and TB. “Research tells us that going for a test and knowing the HIV status puts young people in charge of their health. It allows students to pause and think how to approach their intimate relationships.”

 Mr Manana reflected on the latest research findings of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) household survey, which gave insight into young people’s attitudes and behaviour towards sex and HIV. Many of the participants in the survey are 15-24 year olds, which constitutes the high-risk group to contract HIV – and is representative of the students enrolled in FET colleges and higher education institutions.

 “We must boldly face what this HSRC survey tells us – basically that an increased number of young people are having unprotected sex and getting infected. They appear to be relying on the fact that antiretroviral treatment will be available should they become infected.

 “This warns us we have let our guard down. We used to be vigilant but it appears that we are losing respect for HIV and the danger it poses to young people’s safety and future – which is the future of South Africa. We cannot afford to do this,” stressed Mr Manana.

 HIV prevention options are varied and convenient, and include easy access to condoms, counselling and testing for HIV, screening and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections and TB, and medical male circumcision, which lowers the man’s risk to contract HIV from heterosexual sex by 60% during his lifetime, and affords a degree of protection to his partners too from HIV and other STIs.

 Mr Manana urged students at Goldfields and all other FET colleges to use available methods of protection: “We have no excuse. There is an HIV prevention option no matter what our lifestyle.”

 “The initial phase of First Things First ensured that 23 higher education institutions in South Africa are providing on-site HIV counselling and testing, accompanied by condom distribution, screening and treatment for STIs and TB, advice on general and sexual health and referrals for further care for people who test positive for HIV or TB,” explains Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, Director of the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), which is tasked with promoting and supporting HIV/AIDS and TB response in the higher education and training sector.

 “We are now reaching out to the crucial – and substantial – further education and training sector to initiate implementation of the same services across some 300 campuses in South Africa.

 “First Things First has the ambitious but important goal to provide for the testing of 120 000 students and staff over a three-year period using HIV rapid finger-prick test, supported by appropriate counselling and education,” said Dr Ahluwalia.

 Other guests at the launch of First Things First at Goldfields FET College included the Premier of the Free State, Mr Ace Magashule, the United States Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Patrick Gaspard, and representatives from the college and the student body.

 The First Things First campaign unites more than 500 000 students and staff at higher education and training institutions across the country to reject HIV stigma and test to know their status. It is a necessary step to accessing treatment, care and support and preventing new infections.