SAACHS Conference 2017 Reflections

The South African Association of Campus Health Services, an association of health services supporting academic activities at tertiary educational institutions in South Africa hosted the 38th South African Association of Campus Health Services conference under the theme “ignite the spark”.  The conference which occurs annually serves as a barometer of the achievements made and opportunity to strengthen service provision on campuses as well as a platform to share emerging best practices amongst peers. The conference which was held in Bloemfontein at Emoya Estate Bloemfontein from 10-13 January 2017 focused on encouraging, initiating, promoting and fostering relationships between relevant partners in the interest of campus health. 

Every year, HEAIDS sponsors and participates in the SAACHS Conference. This year, HEAIDS sought to introduce its new University support team to SAACHS members and was represented by the Director, Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia; the Programme Manager, Mr Alex Semba and the newly appointed Programme Coordinators, Ms Zandile Veronica Mqwathi and Mr. Shibashiba Martinus Moabelo.

During his presentation, Dr. Ahluwalia lobbied for greater support from SAACHS members to increase services; access to students and staff beyond the Campus Health Clinic Services by increasing First Things First activations per campus. Furthermore, members were encouraged to share their stories at the HEAIDS Conference scheduled to take place from 9-10 June 2017 at Durban ICC.

The Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) took the time to engage on a number of issues that required support in 2017 and beyond. The conference sessions covered sessions on; “How to bring access to ARVs/DOTs at the door steps of students. A number of studies demonstrate that students don’t like to go to the clinic which has an adverse effect on adherence. The formalisation and accreditation for distribution and ensuring that the campus health is able to issue treatment was one of the issues discussed.

The delegates expressed the need to address Sexually Transmitted Infections as an entry point.  Sexual transmitted infections (STI’s) are reported to be a bigger problem especially because of the link and strong association with HIV. There’s is an opportunity to addressrisky behaviours that can reduce related health problems and supportbehaviours that support their health and well-being—including behaviours that reduce their risk for HIV, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy. Questions on how to manage infections and providing youth friendly services to assist in promoting early testing where also addressed. It is a proven fact that early detection and treatment saves lives.  There was a general consensus that there is a need for greater promotion of condom usage and education.

An emphasis was also placed on the importance of ensuring that the most at-risk group (youth) to HIV can get access to health services if- and -when they need it. Similarly, when students make use of health services this also presents an opportunity for them to get tested for HIV early which is vital in ensuring a quality of life for those who might test HIV positive and to also take the opportunity to educate the HIV negative one’s to stay HIV negative.

HEAIDS Director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia says ‘young people between the ages of 15-24 remain at high risk of contracting HIV. As HEAIDS, we commit to continue supporting prevention, management, care and support programmes in the sector to ensure students and staff are well informed and have easy access to health and wellness services at their door steps of their campus through First Things First and Campus Health Services’.