A new HIV treatment programme tailored to the needs of students was launched at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) earlier this year.
According to South African National Aids Council (SANAC) figures, 37% of new HIV infections in South Africa in 2016 were in women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24. The prevalence in women and girls in this age group were four times that of men and boys in the same age group.
These figures spurred CPUT into action. In July this year they rolled out an antiretroviral treatment programme with the aim of granting students easier access to treatment.
The programme is called “ART clubs” - an initiative that will ensure that students known to be living with HIV are managed and cared for locally. According to a CPUT statement, students will not have to miss out on class time due to waiting hours at offsite clinics and it is expected that adherence to treatment will improve.
Former President of the CPUT Student Representative Council Sipho Mokoena told Spotlight that the programme is progressing well, although the university was reluctant to share figures on its progress. Mokoena however said: “I was looking at the statistics and they showed at least 63% of registered CPUT-students known to be living with HIV have been collecting their medicine from the HIV-unit at the Bellville campus.”
Mokoena said at least seven students make use of this service daily.
CPUT has 8 campuses in the Western Cape. The programme is currently only available at the Bellville campus. It will be rolled out to the other 7 campuses from next year.
Spokesperson for CPUT Lauren Kansley said the ART-programme for now will inclusively deal with referrals from other CPUT campuses to the Bellville campus clinic. She said this will help to provide access to the programme.
Kansley would not be drawn on statistics relating to the project. Attempts to get information from the two nurses running the HIV unit were also unsuccessful. Kansley said: “As per instruction from our HIV/Aids unit who deals directly with Higher Education AIDS (HEAIDS) we never reveal institutional statistics on infection rates.”
(HEAIDS is a non-profit company under the leadership of the Department of Higher Education and Training that coordinates and runs health services at tertiary education institutions.)
She did say they are pleased with the uptake thus far although they expected more students. She attributed the lower than expected uptake to the unit opening during recess when there were fewer students around.
Spotlight visited the HIV unit on the Bellville campus. It is small and close to the often-crowded student centre. During the visit, a peer educator was counselling a student and the conversation was audible in the waiting area.
When approached for comment on their progress, the HIV/AIDS peer educator was reluctant to share any information. She said she was employed by HEAIDS and was told not to give any information.
Attempts to get input from the head of the HIV unit Melanie Marais was also unsuccessful.
Mokoena expressed concern over privacy at the unit. He said there is an ongoing issue of stigma that may prevent students from accessing the service.
"Some students feel that they are not as comfortable as they could have been because the HIV-unit is quite small and gets crammed but there are also others who do not mind.”
He said some students are also affected mentally because they want to be accepted rather than looked down upon.
“The SRC has tried to make treatment and counselling accessible to students and closing hours of the counselling unit have been extended from 4pm to 8pm”, he said.
According to Kansley there are resource constraints. "We do not have enough staff to support and assist in these programmes. We currently have two nursing practitioners who have successfully completed the Nurse Initiated Management of Antiretroviral Treatment (NIMART) course offered by the Department of Health and Khethi' Impilo”, she said.
CPUT is working with the Western Cape Department of Health. “The department accredited the institution’s student health clinic as a decanting site where life-saving medication can be rolled out”, Kansley said.
The latest data available on HIV prevalence among students show a prevalence of 3,4% and among those that are sexually active, a prevalence of 3.8%. This HEAIDS study of 2008/2009 sampled 17 062 students in 21 of the 23 universities in the country. T
wo thirds of the sample was students that were sexually active, AfricaCheck reported. There has since been no new data on HIV prevalence among students in higher education institutions.
This article first appeared in Spotlight.