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Universities offer HIV treatment

A number of universities are rolling out critical antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication to their students living with HIV. This means students don’t have to travel far, spend money, miss classes or face the stigma that comes with going off campus for the life-saving treatment.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology recently announced that its student health clinic on the Bellville campus will provide ARTs (also called ARVs) to its students, starting on Monday.

The acting head of department for student health, Andries Slinger, said the initiative will ensure that HIV-positive students are cared for locally and would not be missing out on class time because they have to wait at clinics off campus and that this will ensure that their adherence to the medication improves.

The latest study on HIV in universities, titled HIV Prevalence and Related Factors, was published in 2009 by the Higher Education HIV and Aids Programme. It was conducted at 21 universities, and found that 3.4% of students live with HIV.

Students mentioned not being able to get ARVs on or near campus as a major problem for those who did not have medical aid. The study said this “compromises their work and study” and suggested that “all higher education institutions adopt measures to ensure that ART is available on or near campuses”.

This week, Thuthukile Mbatha, a researcher at the nonprofit organisation, Section27, said the provision of ARVs on campus was one way to ensure that young people, who are most vulnerable to HIV infections, can get treatment.

“We usually see low numbers of people, especially young people, being able to stay on treatment. One of the reasons for this is inaccessibility of clinics that provide ART. Having ART provided on campus means that students would not have to miss a day of school waiting at the clinic for their treatment, they can just go in between classes. Students will also not have to spend on transport.”

Mbatha added that when students collect their treatment on campus there would be less stigma and discrimination, as happens when they collect from public clinics off campus.

The president of the South African Union of Students, Misheck Mugabe, said while it was commendable for institutions to offer ARVs to students on campus, it was equally important to resolve the issues that are causing young people to be affected with HIV in the first place. “We want universities to take a proactive approach to ensure that we deal with all other causes that are making young people be at risk in our institutions of higher learning. And those include poverty, substance abuse [and] the issue of rape culture in our institutions.”

The M&G sent questions to 24 universities about whether their campus clinics provide ARVs to students and what other support they offer to students living with the virus.

Questions were not sent to CPUT and the University of Zululand (UniZulu) because these two universities have announced the provision of ARVs to students. UniZulu announced in 2017 that it would be rolling out ARVs to its students, making it the first university to do so in KwaZulu-Natal.

Of the 24 universities that were sent questions, 12 responded.

The University of Limpopo, Nelson Mandela University, Vaal University of Technology, Rhodes University and North West University (Potchefstroom and Vaal campuses) indicated that they have been offering ARVs to their students through their campus healthcare centres for years. Sol Plaatje University, which was established in 2014, began dispensing ARVs to students last year.

The universities of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg and the Mangosuthu University of Technology said they do not offer ARVs to their students on campus. But they do refer students to the nearest sites that provide ARVs if they have tested positive and need to go on treatment.

Some of these universities said they were in discussions with the department of health to give their campus clinics accreditation to dispense ARVs.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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