The number of young women infected weekly with HIV in South Africa has dropped, according to the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), but still remains unacceptably high

The number of new infections per week is now 1 200 among girls in the 15 to 24 year age group. Three years ago, the weekly infection rate within the same age group was 2 000.

The data formed part of a presentation by Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia of HEAIDS, which he delivered in Durban on Wednesday.

HEAIDS is a government initiative that falls under the Department of Higher Education and Training. It provides and supports HIV mitigation programmes to the country’s approximately two million students.

Ahluwalia was part of a panel presentation on youth health and wellness. He was speaking to a capacity audience at the Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre on the second day of the 9th South African AIDS Conference, which runs until Friday.

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Ahluwalia said that challenges in tertiary education institutions include that 14 per cent of students engage in transactional sex/ intergenerational sex and that 41 per cent of students engage in multiple sexual partners, increasing the rate of HIV infection.

Higher education is also “stigma prone”, he said, which would keep students from being tested.

But, he said, the same youthful population that created and maintained the Fees Must Fall movement could also be used for peer encouragement and education when it comes to HIV and AIDS.

One such programme that encouraged engagement through dialogue, workshops, debates and exhibitions is First Things First (FTF).

The programme provides testing and screening services for HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) via mobile clinics. It also allows for general health testing, including non-communicable diseases.

Ahluwalia said campuses also have to deal with mental health issues among students, with suicide being the second cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 in higher education in 2012.

As many as 12 per cent of university students experience anything from moderate to severe symptoms of depression, according to research, while 15 per cent report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia was part of a panel discussion on youth health and wellness at the 9th South African Aids Conference in Durban on Wednesday. PHOTO: ANA Reporter.

One study found that as many as 24,5 per cent of South African students reported “some form of suicidal ideation in the two weeks before they were interviewed”.

“Despite psychological distress being high among university students, evidence suggested that only one in six students received minimally adequate mental health treatment,” according to Ahluwalia.

Unplanned pregnancies are also listed as a challenge, with statistics revealing that 32 per cent of students had been pregnant or had made someone pregnant, with 75 per cent of the pregnancies being unplanned.

Research has also shown that in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, 60 per cent of students and 58 per cent of TVET college staff abuse alcohol on a regular basis – almost every month – on campus.

According to the World Health Organisation, AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 in Africa, while over 30 percent of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among adolescents.

Author: ANA Newswire