15 February 2011
South Africa has launched “First Things First”, an HIV counselling, testing and education campaign targeting more than 30 000 first-year students at 18 universities countrywide.
The campaign, endorsed by the Departments of Health and Higher Education, forms part of the government’s HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign, launched last year in April.
Responsible future leaders
Speaking at the launch at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Medical Campus in Johannesburg on Monday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said South Africa had one of the most severe HIV/Aids epidemics in the world, with an estimated 5.7-million people living with the virus.
He said the campaign aimed to help South African students, as future leaders, to be responsible, get tested for HIV, know their status and commit to behaviour which would benefit themselves and their peers.
“The risk of HIV infection escalates when young people go out into the world,” Motsoaledi said. “With this campaign, we can put all our energy into making a tangible contribution to the government’s efforts by adopting a novel approach as demonstrated through the campaign.
“The campaign was made possible when the rules of engagement for HIV testing changed, enabling large groups of people to be counselled and tested. Through a project using mobile testing units, this project has been made possible,” Motsoaledi said.
Lasting legacy of testing
Students have access to pre-counselling through a lively DVD, which interweaves counselling messages by portraying the lives of three students. Once tested, students can sign a pledge on the interactive pledge wall.
The Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) has led partners in training 250 staff who are now able to test students on an ongoing basis, ensuring a lasting legacy of testing in tertiary institutions beyond the life of the campaign.
Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize said she hoped the exercise would become an annual event in the orientation programmes of South Africa’s universities.
“We have written to all the higher institutions informing them about our support for the Health Department, and felt that an invitation gave us an anchor on introducing the issue through the orientation programme,” said Mkhize.
Innovative Medicines of South Africa (IMSA) CEO Val Beaumont said the campaign provided an ongoing commitment, and hoped that the majority of first-year students would partner with them in this initiative.
“The campaign aims to change behaviour, and we want to create a way of doing things differently. Through the campaign, we are able to change tomorrow,” Beaumont said.
The campaign is a collaborative effort between the South African National Aids Council, IMSA and its member companies, the FPD, the Departments of Health and Higher Education, the Higher Education HIV and AIDS Programme, Higher Education South Africa, along with the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).