Dear students across South Africa,
Let us all take a moment to reflect on the social challenges and challenges regarding health and wellness you face on a daily basis. The HIV epidemic has caused significant loss of life and has affected almost all of us over the past few decades. Whilst we have made significant progress in the past few years, we still have more than 270 000 new HIV infections every year with an estimated 2 000 new infections in adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years each week.
Added to this we have more than 70 000 young girls below the age of 18 years getting pregnant each year. We are aware that our students face difficult financial challenges that often leave our female learners in transactional relationships with older men or even engaging in sex work. Many young people experience some form of Gender Based Violence while studying at institutions of higher learning and are often faced with mental health challenges, which leads to increasing rates of suicides on campuses across the country. This is a reality of South Africa that is often not acknowledged.
As the CEO of the HEAIDS programme, I would like to let you know that we are aware of these challenges and we hear you. We also want to encourage all of you to focus on your studies and refrain from engaging in risky sexual behaviour or relationships that leave you vulnerable. If you experience any form of Gender Based Violence or you become a witness of such crimes, please report it to your institution. We need you to help us in this challenge.
We know that as your orientation week is starting at your universities and TVET colleges across the country, you will be faced with a lot of social activities that often involve drinking alcohol. You might even be offered other forms of drugs. Long hours at the library and the pressure of performing in your studies might leave you thinking about taking drugs to keep you awake for longer and increase your productivity. Let me remind you that all kinds of substances – alcohol, drugs, and performance enhancing medication, is going to compromise your health and well-being in the meantime. So I would like to urge all of you to please drink responsibly, take care of your health and make use of the services that are offered to you in the case that you feel like you have a problem with substance abuse.
As HEAIDS we are fully committed to ensuring that our students across all TVET colleges and universities can take care of their health and have a successful academic year 2018. We invite all our learners to participate in our programmes and would like to encourage them to get to know their HIV status, as we believe that a healthy student contributes to a healthy society.
Thanking you for your attention and wishing all of you a successful academic year 2018.
Best wishes from the HEAIDS Team.