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How South African Universities Are Taking a Lead in HIV Treatment for Students


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Eliminating the epidemic of HIV/AIDS globally is a key target of the UN Global Goal 3 for good health and wellbeing for everyone. You can join us by taking actions to help achieve this target here.

South Africa may have the highest number of people living with HIV and AIDS in the world but the country is also constantly finding ways of tackling the virus.

As the executive director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé said in Geneva in 2016, South Africa makes “bold” steps, especially in efforts to reach the 90-90-90 targets set by UNAIDS.

The targets essentially aim to get 90% of people who are infected to know their HIV status, then get them on treatment, and ultimately have their viral load suppressed, which has been proven to stop the virus from being transmitted.

But South African universities are taking action in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The Mail & Guardian reports that several universities will be providing antiretrovirals (ARVs) to students who are HIV positive.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) started providing treatment on Monday.

Andries Slinger, the acting head of department for student health at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said the institution decided to roll out treatment to make HIV management compatible with the demands of student life.

CPUT is the latest university to offer treatment on campus, joining the universities of Limpopo, Nelson Mandela, Rhodes, North-West, and Vaal University of Technology.

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Meanwhile, the University of Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest number of people (2.1 million) living with HIV and AIDS, started rolling out treatment to students in 2017.

“We usually see low numbers of people, especially young people, being able to stay on treatment. One of the reasons for this is inaccessibility of clinics that provide ART,” Thuthukile Mbatha, researcher with the nongovernmental organisation Section27, told the Mail & Guardian.

She added that making treatment as easy as possible for students to access will encourage them to stay on treatment, because they will not have to miss classes or spend on transport.

Accessible treatment on campus also helps remove barriers created by the stigma some people experience when they collect their treatment in public clinics.

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She said: “Having ART provided on campus means that students would not have to miss a day of school waiting at the clinic for their treatment, they can just go in between classes. Students will also not have to spend on transport.”

A large-scale research project conducted in 21 universities in 2009 found that 3.4% of students are living with HIV.

And even though new infection rates have fallen by 44%, according to the South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour, and Communication Survey of 2017, the infection rate in young women aged between 15 and 24 was 37% in 2016, according to the UK-based NGO, Avert.

The universities of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and the Mangosuthu University of Technology don’t currently offer treatment on campus, but refer students to local clinics and other health facilities that are easily accessible.