About 1,200 girls get infected weekly with HIV, Aids conference hears

The 9th South African Aids Conference is being held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, 12 June 2019. Picture: ANA Reporter

Statistics also show that 32% of students had been pregnant or had made someone pregnant, with 75% of the pregnancies being unplanned.

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

The number of new infections per week was 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 higher education and training department. 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.

Ahluwalia said that challenges in tertiary education institutions included that 14 percent of students engaged in transactional sex/intergenerational sex and that 41 percent of students engaged in multiple sexual partners, increasing the rate of HIV infection.

Higher education was 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 came to HIV and AIDS.

One such programme that encouraged engagement through dialogue, workshops, debates and exhibitions was 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 had to deal with mental health issues among students, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 in higher education in 2012.

As many as 12 percent of university students experienced anything from moderate to severe symptoms of depression, according to research, while 15 percent reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

One study found that as many as 24.5 percent 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 were also listed as a challenge, with statistics revealing that 32 percent of students had been pregnant or had made someone pregnant, with 75 percent of the pregnancies being unplanned.

Research had also shown that in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, 60 percent of students and 58 percent of TVET college staff abused 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 have been estimated to occur among adolescents.

African News Agency (ANA)

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