South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV/Aids in the world, at 11 percent (6 million) of the population, according to research done by Statistics SA in 2015. In addition, 17 percent of adults aged between 15 and 49 are HIV positive.
In the higher education sector of the 65 percent of students who are having sex, the HIV prevalence is 3.8 percent. The Eastern Cape has the highest HIV prevalence among students at 6.4 percentage.
Thandi Mzizi, the Institutional Wellness Specialist, assures that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Speaking during the First Things First campaign currently rolling out as part of the HIV/Aids week (14 – 19 August), he believes that Rhodes University has the necessary capacity to deal with the medical, social and spiritual needs of those infected and affected by HIV/Aids.
This week’s First Things First campaign involves a free test for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis screening, blood sugar levels testing, blood pressure, nutrition assessment, family planning and Pap smear checks.
According to Mzizi, “we have a holistic programme that includes the critical Antiretroviral Therapy. Our nurses are trained in Nurse Initiation Management of Antiretroviral Therapy (Nimart). Until recently, one had to wait for the doctor for initiation into anti-retroviral treatment. In addition, we rollout anti-retroviral free from government for those without medical aid. We are able to provide all healthcare services to students and staff who want to be tested, counselled and treated once positive,” said Mzizi.
Rhodes University’s Wellness division is made up of the HIV Office,Health Care Centre, The Counselling Centre, Harassment and Career Centre.
The HIV Office coordinates the University’s HIV/Aids programme for both staff and students. It drives awareness to encourage prevention, care and support, positive living, and stigma reduction. It also deals with the provision of ARVs, treatment literacy and compliance with the treatment protocol.
Twenty peer educators assist other students and ensure availability of condoms at appropriate points across campus.
The healthcare centre provides primary health care, educational campaigns, referrals to other medical services.
The Counselling Centre provides registered psychologists, confidential counselling, a psychological after hours emergency line and ensures the provision of pre and post-test counselling.
These centres, along with the Antiretroviral Therapy Rollout (ART) programme have ensured that the quality of treatment available at Rhodes is of a high standard and is changing the face of HIV/Aids.
Since the introduction of ARVs, one could only take ARVs if their CD4 was as low as 200 to 500. The World Health Organisation (WHO) changed this policy to the immediate roll out of ARVs as soon as one tests positive in order to boost the CD4 count, immune system and seek longevity of life.
“The misjudgment of the timing was due to improper research on HIV/Aids, but now we know better. This new law has seen a boost in the CD4 count and has decreased the chances of new infections. This means that the notion of HIV/Aids being a death sentence has been successfully proven wrong, making it a good time to get tested,” Mzizi recommended.
Rhodes University’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela shared the same sentiments urging students and staff to be tested in order to maintain their quality life.
“We are constantly trying to create an institutional culture that values people and their lives. As a small campus, we cannot be known in numbers, but rather by our first names. Let us value our health and the health of those we love by preventing infections and being tested regularly,” he urged.
The First Things First campaign is presented by the Rhodes University Health Care Centre, the HIV Office, the SRC in partnership with the Department of Health (DoH) and the Raphael Centre.