The results of a survey by the Higher Education HIV/Aids programme (HEAids) show that 3,4% of students in higher education institutions are HIV-positive.
About 1,5% of academic staff are HIV-positive, administrative staff have an HIV prevalence rate of 4,4% and 9,9% of ser- vices staff at tertiary institu- tions are HIV-positive.
The findings have been published in five regional categories and the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal emerge consistently as the regions with the highest infection rates, while the Western Cape has the lowest figures.
“Although the average prevalence rate for the higher education sector is considerably lower than prevalence in the general population, the patterns are similar in terms of the most affected regions,” reports HEAids.
Research team head Dr Mark Colvin says that the figure of 3,4% is lower than expected but emphasises that efforts on tertiary education campuses to educate students on HIV/Aids need to be continued.
“Even a prevalence rate of 1% would still be 1% too much,” he adds.
“The figures tell us very clearly that some regions and institutions face more serious challenges than others. This means that the response needs to be tailored to local needs and an inflexible national approach will not be effective,” says HEAids programme director Dr Gail Andrews.
The difference in statistics between the lowest and highest regions is about sixfold.
Andrews says that the results of the survey will enable the statutory body for universities and universities of technology, Higher Education South Africa (HESA), to present a coherent sectoral response on the issue of HIV in higher education.
She adds that individual institutions will have to work with the HESA to develop a relevant strategy for the needs of staff and students in their particular contexts.
The study also shows that female students are more than twice as likely to be infected as male students. Colvin says that the gender-based data from the survey have produced interesting results that will assist institutions in tailoring HIV prevention programmes to be effective in different sectors.
At the HEAids conference, where the survey results were announced, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande noted that it was a significant concern for his department that the rate of infection at tertiary institutions was higher among women and service staff.
He said that the results relating to women in the study raised concerns about sexual harassment, and urged uni- versities and universities of technology to adopt a policy of zero tolerance in these issues.
The survey forms part of phase two of the HEAids programme, which was largely funded by the European Union. Nzimande indicated that plans for the roll-out of phase three were progressing and that funding of R4,2-million had been secured for its implementation.
Additional findings from the study show that HIV pre- valence among students increases sharply with age, with the 18-year-old to 19-year-old age group having a prevalence rate of 0,7% and the over-25 age group an 8,3% rate.