First Things First targets more students

Following its success last year, First Things First aims to test even more students this year. The 2017 campaign was launched in the Western Cape last month.

First Things First, HEAIDS
Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia (right, alongside HEAIDS Youth Co-ordinator, Zandile Mqwathi) says the objective of the ongoing First Things First campaign is to reduce the number of new HIV and TB infections in South Africa’s higher education institutions. (Image: Bokamoso for Heaids, via Facebook)

Mathiba Molefe

More than 160,000 students from 429 higher education campuses across South Africa were tested for HIV through the First Things First campaign in 2016. The aim is to reach even more students this year.

The 2017 First Things First campaign was launched by Higher Education and Training Minister Mduduzi Manana at Boland College in the Western Cape on 25 April. The objective of the campaign is to promote sexual health among students at South Africa’s tertiary education institutions.

Now in its seventh year, First Things First, created by the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), has tested almost 500,000 students for HIV, as well as screened the students for tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“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.”

To spread its influence and reach as many students as possible, the campaign, together with the government, has expanded to include students in the Western Cape.

HEAIDS director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia said that in 2016 alone, it tested and offered counselling to more than 160,000 students from 429 higher education campuses across South Africa.

It aimed to improve on last year’s numbers and get even more students on the path to healthy living.

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

The launch 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,” Ahluwalia said.

First Things First

In addition to HIV, STI and TB testing services, First Things First offers screening, treatment and support for a wide range of general health issues including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular health and cancer.

It provides family planning, dual contraception, reproductive and maternal health services to students to help improve their health and make them more aware of the importance of staying healthy and looking after themselves.

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

Ahluwalia pointed out that “a holistic approach to HIV prevention is far more effective than addressing any single factor alone.

“This is why we are committed to reaching all 2-million young people in our higher education institutions with First Things First.

“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,” Ahluwalia said.

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