The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) welcomes the announcement that the University of Zululand will provide HIV treatment to students and staff on campus. If implemented effectively, this should provide an easier and quicker system for people to collect their ARVs and therefore ensure better treatment adherence.
Making medicines more accessible will benefit the health of all people living with HIV on campus. The evidence is clear that earlier treatment reduces serious adverse events like TB and various cancers. Adhering properly to HIV treatment is critical to staying healthy. Additionally, this will also help prevent many new HIV infections. Studies show that people who are stable on treatment with undetectable viral loads are highly unlikely to transmit HIV to their sexual partners. With around 270 000 people getting HIV in South Africa every year, and with young women continuing to be hardest hit, we need aggressive use of all available interventions to reduce new infections. The most important intervention for reducing new infections is helping people already on treatment to stay on treatment and become and remain virally suppressed.
The dysfunction in the public healthcare system creates its own challenges for people to remain adherent. The reality is that our clinics are in crisis. People must wait in long queues for hours to get their HIV treatment. Sometimes medicine stockouts or shortages mean people leave empty handed. This forces people to default and puts their health and lives at risk. Students must take the decision to miss classes in order to wait at the clinic. Those staying in residence must travel home to collect them. Our right to health and education are in conflict. By providing medicines on campus, it will not only promote better adherence for students and staff at the university, but will also relieve the burden on health facilities that are already stretched to capacity. Given the increasing uptake of HIV treatment through “Universal Test and Treat” this burden will only grow.
It is important that this intervention to improve treatment accessibility is coupled with counselling and adherence support on campus. We also urge the University of Zululand to provide easy access to preventative measures such as male and female condoms as well as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP aimed at youth and the general population may have an important role to play in reducing new infections. Further, and critically, measures need to be put in place to prevent the disclosure of people’s HIV statuses on campus, which would cause unnecessary stigma and discrimination. For instance, people should not be forced to enter buildings reserved only for collecting HIV medicines, and their clinic files must not be colour coded or marked to show their statuses.
TAC KZN Provincial Chairperson
073 129 9309
078 150 0481