HEAIDS celebration dinner to thank donors and partners

HEAIDS has grown remarkably over the past few years but none of it would have been possible without the support of our partners and funders.

In recognition of this, HEAIDS hosted a celebration evening on 1 October to thank these stakeholders for their ongoing support.

The evening was opened with a lively performance by the Royal Vibrationz Marimba Band before HEAIDS Director and Head, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia mapped out the Programme’s journey since 2011 when it was implemented in just 23 campuses. The Programme has seen massive growth since then, recording 337 implementing campuses in 2014 so far.

HEAIDS is the first in South Africa to have a fully comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework in line with the 2012-2016 National Strategic Plan on HIV/STIs and TB.

It has also been punted as a perfect example of various government departments, civil society, donors, students and the private sector working together towards a common goal.

Dr Ahluwalia took guests through the HEAIDS Big Seven Programmes that focus on HCT/TB/STI testing and education, men and women’s health, curriculum development and integration, alcohol and substance abuse, LGBTI populations and youth development.

All of these Programmes have cross-cutting themes on HIV/TB/STI and other wellness screening, treatment and education, health promotion, safe sex practices, empowerment, graduate competencies, capacitating academics and destigmatising perceptions.

Professor Brian O’Connell, Chairperson of the HESA/HEAIDS Strategy Group then addressed the event by lamenting South Africa’s slow reaction to the spread of HIV. He explained that the country had no history of the virus to rely on and this led to decisions being made that has left 7-million South Africans infected.

“Where were the voices of rationality?” he asked. “Why was it impossible for our universities to win the country’s minds about this virus? Did they shout it from the rooftops or did we not do enough?”

He highlighted that South Africa’s Higher Education Sector had the responsibility of winning the trust of students. This was the purpose of the HEAIDS Programme – to create a force that would be invited to the table when big challenges were discussed. This was the first time in South Africa that institutions had come together on a common goal.

O’Connell pointed out that what started as an HIV prevention programme, HEAIDS has developed into a force that has delivered insights on problems affecting the country, including TB, STI, alcoholism and wellness issues.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana delivered a keynote address focusing on the instrumental role that HEAIDS has played in South Africa’s response over the last 14 years primarily due to strong collaborative partnerships.

“This should serve as an example of how best to strategically implement future efforts through innovative methodologies in a resource-strained environment through partner support,” he said.

Manana pointed out that implementation of the Big Seven Programmes was of paramount importance. “We cannot be content with merely introducing initiatives. Our ultimate and singular goal should and must always be the effective implementation of the things that we envisage.”

He thanked HEI and TVET institutions for taking up the leadership role in actioning the HEAIDS Programme. “As a country, we might never fully comprehend the totality and multifaceted nature of the impact of HIV but through Programmes like this, we stand a better chance of stemming and hopefully also reversing this unfortunate legacy.”

It is important for students to get tested and follow safe sex practices, he said, highlighting that seeking treatment did not need to hamper attendance at college or discourage them from imagining and following new possibilities.

Manana threw down the gauntlet to vice-chancellors and potential stakeholders to join HEAIDS’s efforts in venturing into more areas urgently in need of intervention.

“This country needs your leadership and skills and we look forward to strengthening these critical partnerships in future,” he concluded.

The dinner was punctuated by powerful performances by Drama for Life poets Faith Busika, Zewande K Bhengu and Itai Hakim.