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A “fresh, contemporary” campaign called First Things First has been launched targeting students in tertiary education to get tested for HIV and Aids, and change their behaviour.
FIRST Things First, a newly launched HIV counselling and testing campaign, aims to encourage at least 15 million South Africans, particularly first-year students in tertiary education to get tested for HIV and know their status – with an added incentive.

 

Minister of Health Aaron MotsoalediMinister of Health Aaron MotsoalediThose who are tested stand in line to drive home a sporty Toyota Yaris Zen.
 

It is hoped that the campaign will increase capacity and sustain the government’s current voluntary HIV testing and counselling (HTC) campaign, put appropriate information about HIV into a student context, and ultimately help change behavioural patterns. Students are urged to be true to themselves and their peers, respect each other and lay the foundation for an HIV-free society.

The campaign, which will dovetail with every university’s first-year orientation programme, was launched on the Wits Medical School Campus, on 14 February. The launch was held on Valentine’s Day because it is a day generally associated with love and relationships and the Department of Health was using that as bait.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said First Things First aimed to help South African students, as future leaders, to be responsible, get tested for HIV, know their status and commit to behaviour that would benefit themselves and their peers.

“We chose to reach out to students as they are the future leaders who can enable positive change within society. The risk of HIV infection escalates when young people go out into the world. With this campaign we can put all our energy into making a tangible contribution to the government’s efforts by adopting a novel approach,” he said.

Get tested
Val Beaumont, the executive director of Innovative Medicines South Africa (IMSA), said the campaign was one of the most ambitious in the world, targeting at least 15 million South Africans by June 2011. The short-term objective would be to test at least 35 000 first-year students by March 2011.

“This is not just another campaign; it’s fresh and it is contemporary. We are confident that it will have a lasting behavioural legacy amongst students to do things differently,” she said.

 

The First Things First campaign aims to get 15 million people testedThe First Things First campaign aims to get 35 000 first-year students tested by March 2011The campaign is spearheaded by the IMSA, in collaboration with the Foundation for Professional Development and Pepfar, the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. It is endorsed by the ministries of Health and Higher Education and forms part of the government’s broader HTC campaign.
 

Both ministries have allowed the use of mobile testing units, which will be stationed at 16 universities. More than 200 people have been trained to conduct testing and counselling for students.

Once tested, students can visit an interactive pledge wall on their campus, sign it and automatically enter a competition to win a Toyota Yaris Zen and other prizes.

There are several other large-scale campaigns in South Africa related to raising awareness about HIV/Aids and other sexually related issues. The major drive behind the HCT campaign, launched by President Zuma in April 2010, was to scale up awareness of HIV in an effort to reduce the rate of new infections by 50 percent by June 2011.

Since the campaign was launched, about 5 million people have been tested and counselled. “This is not the only prevention weapon we have employed against HIV and Aids, but it is the most important intervention, that of knowing one’s status,” said Motso