Var­si­ties must em­u­late MSU on-cam­pus test­ing

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

THE 15 to 24-year age group is recog­nised as the most vul­ner­a­ble in terms of their risk of con­tract­ing HIV and other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted diseases (STDs). They are still young and their per­cep­tion of risk is gen­er­ally low. They are im­pres­sion­able as well. They have bound­less en­ergy. Many things are new to the ado­les­cents so they are ex­per­i­men­tal, want­ing to un­der­stand how they feel.

Be­cause of the fore­go­ing and other fac­tors, many of them en­gage in dan­ger­ous sex­ual be­hav­iour. This in­cludes run­ning mul­ti­ple, con­cur­rent sex­ual part­ner­ships, en­gag­ing in un­pro­tected and trans­ac­tional sex. Some try nar­cotic drugs too. Many neg­a­tive con­se­quences arise from th­ese

un­wanted preg­nan­cies, early mar­riages, con­trac­tion of HIV and other STIs and ad­di­tion to drugs.

To min­imise the im­pacts of th­ese, the Gov­ern­ment, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions and other in­sti­tu­tions in­vest a lot of time and re­sources to en­sure that youths change their be­hav­iours by ab­stain­ing from pre­mar­i­tal sex and if they en­gage in it, use pro­tec­tion and in cases they get in­fected by HIV and other STDs, they ac­cess treat­ment.

One very im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tion that can help limit the im­pact of HIV and Aids and STIs among teenagers and young adults is en­cour­ag­ing them to get tested and mak­ing avail­able the fa­cil­i­ties for them to ac­cess this crit­i­cal ser­vice easily.

The Mid­lands State Univer­sity (MSU) has in place mech­a­nisms to test at least 5 000 stu­dents for HIV and other ail­ments at its cam­puses across the country this year.

This came out dur­ing the univer­sity’s two­day health expo which ended in Gweru on Wed­nes­day.

Act­ing di­rec­tor of health ser­vices at MSU, Mr Tafirenyika Shoko, said: “We have stake­hold­ers from the health and re­lated sec­tors at this Health Expo. They set up stands so that stu­dents can pass through and ac­cess ser­vices they are of­fer­ing such as HIV test­ing and coun­selling, in­for­ma­tion on cancer, di­a­betes and many other ail­ments. This is part of our ef­forts to con­sci­en­tise our stu­dents about the im­por­tance of their health which is a form of em­pow­er­ment. Last year we had 2 600 stu­dents pass­ing through the stands be­ing tested and this year we are tar­get­ing 5 000 stu­dents hence we have made it a two-day af­fair”.

He said as part of the univer­sity’s ef­forts to raise aware­ness on HIV, the in­sti­tu­tion par­tic­i­pated at the Na­tional HIV Coun­selling and Test­ing pro­gramme where about 1 200 stu­dents got tested.

Mr Shoko said only 0,86 per­cent of stu­dents tested pos­i­tive to HIV.

The univer­sity, one of the country’s big­gest by stu­dent pop­u­la­tion must be ap­plauded for pro­mot­ing the health of its stu­dents as univer­sity stu­dents are at risk of con­tract­ing HIV. In fact, sta­tis­tics from the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil show that higher and ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions have the high­est rate of new HIV in­fec­tions in the country.

Stu­dents at uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges are among the most sex­u­ally ac­tive peo­ple in the country. Af­ter the stric­tures of liv­ing un­der the con­stant eye of their par­ents and teach­ers from Grade One to Ad­vanced Level, they suddenly have all the free­dom of cam­pus life. They have the time and space at this stage to try drugs, al­co­hol in ad­di­tion to sex. It is re­gret­table that some of them end up hooked to drugs and al­co­hol while oth­ers con­tract diseases.

MSU did a good thing by hold­ing the ex­po­si­tion and bring­ing HIV test­ing and coun­selling ser­vices to cam­pus.

The ben­e­fits of on-cam­pus test­ing are many. It cuts the dis­tance that the stu­dents have to travel to ac­cess the same ser­vices else­where. Col­lege and univer­sity stu­dents do not al­ways have the time to travel long dis­tances for such ser­vices, although, of course, if it is to drink beer or en­gage in sex, the ques­tion of dis­tance is not a hin­drance. The suc­cess rate of such fa­cil­i­ties be­ing ren­dered on cam­pus is likely to be high and that is com­mend­able.

Fur­ther­more, the avail­abil­ity of such ser­vices at in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing sug­gests that stu­dents ac­cess them free of charge, a very im­por­tant as­pect if we con­sider the chal­lenged fi­nan­cial sta­tus of stu­dents. A free ser­vice which is avail­able on cam­pus means that more stu­dents are likely to ben­e­fit.

Also, we have no doubt that the ser­vice avail­able at MSU is spe­cially tai­lored for stu­dents. Stu­dents are a unique group of peo­ple and a pro­gramme that is suit­able for older, mar­ried peo­ple may not be suit­able for them. The MSU in­ter­ven­tion, should there­fore, be rel­e­vant to its tar­get au­di­ence.

More in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing should em­u­late what MSU has done be­cause the chal­lenges stu­dents at the univer­sity face are not too dif­fer­ent from those experienced by their coun­ter­parts at the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe, Great Zim­babwe Univer­sity or Na­tional Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy.

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