Audit counts cost of student HIV/Aids

July 2, 2004

Aids-related deaths account for most of the R8 million (£708,000) written off by South Africa's National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

NSFAS has had to write off 400 loans because student debtors have died - from all causes including accidents.

But Allan Taylor, the head of the scheme, confirmed that most died of "natural causes" - especially tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia and other opportunistic diseases associated with HIV/Aids that otherwise strike only older people. "This indicates that HIV/Aids is beginning to bite."

The first national audit of HIV/Aids in higher education found that 35 university institutions provide HIV/Aids services, but only three offer access to medication even though one-quarter of students may have HIV.

Barbara Michel, director of the Higher Education HIV and Aids (HEAids) programme, which conducted the audit, said: "A lot of kids are infected, and a lot are dying. There are concerns about funding and a need for good sector-wide research into HIV/Aids."

A national study of the prevalence of HIV/Aids on campuses is to be considered by HEAids.

The South African Universities Vice-Chancellors Association (Sauvca) has recommended more research into HIV/Aids in higher education and the integration of HIV/Aids into the curriculum. For example, students could be taught about the career implications of having HIV and about how to lessen negative impacts.

HEAids - a project between Sauvca, the Committee of Technikon Principals and the Department of Education - was set up in 2001 to improve institutions' responses to HIV/Aids. Its inquiry suggests that measures to protect and help students and staff are still far from adequate.

By last year, 26 institutions were offering voluntary testing and counselling, five had off-site referral systems and 30 were providing free condoms. Only three - the universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape - were offering access to anti-retroviral drugs.

Three-quarters of counselling and testing services reported increased use since 2002, but take-up remained low, on average 1.3 people per institution per day. "More students than staff and more females than males use the service," HEAids said.

The use of campus services to treat other sexually transmitted diseases is twice as common, but nearly a third of these services reported shortages of drugs in the six months preceding the survey last year. No institution researched the costs of Aids-related employee absence or death, and only one had examined the effect of HIV on pension benefits. Five completed risk assessments of HIV's threat to the institution and its workforce. Nearly half planned such assessments this year.

The audit report also points out other shortcomings. It says: "Few policies have clauses to include HIV in the curriculum, plans to manage the employee living with HIV or plans that anticipate the loss of work hours and skills when staff members become ill."

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