World AIDS Day (WAD) is commemorated annually on 01 December. It is an opportunity for the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and to remember those who have died of AIDS.
South Africa has made tremendous progress since 2009 to turn the HIV and TB epidemics around. More people than ever before are receiving antiretroviral treatment and are living longer and healthier.
However, new HIV infections continue to be a stubborn problem, especially among 15 to 24 year old girls. Stigma and discrimination also continue to be prevalent in our communities, undermining the collective effort on prevention, treatment, support and care of people living with HIV and those who have Tuberculosis (TB).
On WAD 2018, the Department of Basic Education joins the rest of South Africa to take stock of our collective progress to date. The latest national HIV incidence and prevalence survey of 2017 has shown that new HIV infections have declined by 48 percent since the last survey. However, a much more rapid decline is required to gain epidemic control. As a sector, we can be proud of the contribution we have made in the overall multi-sector response to HIV and TB in the country. We can count, amongst others on the following:
- Improving the quality of basic education and retaining learners in school until Grade 12 because evidence supports our assertion that “Safe Schools Protect Children”;
- The HIV and AIDS Life skills programme that has expanded its focus beyond curriculum activities to include programmes to address the drivers of HIV such as alcohol and drug use, early sexual debut, vulnerability through provision of a package of pro-poor programmes, peer education, as well as care and support for orphans and other vulnerable learners;
- Implementation of the DBE’s National Policy on HIV, STIs and TB for Learners, Educators, School Support Staff and Officials in all Primary and Secondary Schools in the Basic Education Sector, which was approved by Cabinet last year, will also strengthen programmes targeting educators and officials; and
- Annually hosting the Commemoration of WAD in the Department including build-up activities with educators and learners, as well as implementing a post-commemoration programme throughout the year. This is in addition to participating in WAD events in the country led by the Deputy President of the Republic and the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC).
The national theme for WAD 2018 is “Know Your Status”. The theme places the responsibility on everyone to test and know their HIV status. This means that learners, educators and officials must play an active role in this regard, as well as screening for TB. The DBE will use the 2018 theme to guide activities beyond the 2018 DBE World AIDS Day Commemoration.
This year, the DBE World AIDS Day will be commemorated on 30 November 2018 at Pondolwendlovu Senior Secondary School in the Nyandeni Municipality, Libode District in the Eastern Cape Province. I encourage all learners, educators and officials to participate in the national programme of action in solidarity with the rest of the world. Schools are encouraged to mark this day in some way.
Let us all commemorate World AIDS Day by:
- Supporting the national efforts towards the prevention of HIV, TB, teenage pregnancy, as well as alcohol and drug use in the basic education sector;
- Encouraging and supporting schools to participate in build-up activities (including access to health services) focusing on the theme “Know Your Status”; and
- Supporting the full implementation of the Care and Support Programmes in schools, in particular the DBE’s National Policy on HIV, STIs and TB for Learners, Educators, School Support Staff and Officials in all Primary and Secondary Schools in the Basic Education Sector.
The DBE is committed to progressively provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), as well as facilitating access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to learners. We will use WAD to solicit learners’ opinions on how best to provide CSE and SRH services in schools. Dialogues with learners and parents will continue to take place across the country. The input will be used to inform the Department’s implementation of programmes in a learner-centred manner.
The Department on its own cannot address the myriad of social challenges that learners are faced with in communities. It is for this reason that I call for the support of everybody, especially parents/caregivers and members of the community to join us in the fight against HIV, sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy and Tuberculosis in our schools.
Mr HM Mweli