World AIDS Day a time for reflection

11 December 2006

By the volume of red ribbons on shirt fronts, it was easy to tell that December 1 was World AIDS Day.

To mark the occasion, HIV/AIDS Co-ordination UCT (HAICU) opened a new exhibition in the foyer just outside the Senate Room in Bremner. The photographic exhibition includes comments by staff and students on what Living with HIV at UCT means to them, and on the link between HIV/AIDS and transformation the campus.

Living with HIV at UCT was, of course, one of the themes of HAICU's two-day HIV/AIDS colloquium in November. And that colloquium was the topic under discussion in the Senate Room on December 1, where HAICU officers and Professor Martin Hall, deputy vice-chancellor responsible for HIV policies, reported to Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, and other members of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) on some of the outcomes of the gathering.

As Hall pointed out, the colloquium wasn't designed to provide answers or closure, but rather to talk through issues and perhaps propose a way forward.

There, UCT and HAICU were applauded for their many initiatives to keep HIV/AIDS foremost on everyone's mind on campus. These include, to name but a few, the work done by Student Wellness Services, the Voluntary Counselling and Testing Campaign in September, and HAICU's education workshops on campus and in surrounding communities.

But there were many other talking points at the colloquium. One of these is the inevitable HIV/AIDS fatigue.

"The challenge is to keep issues on HIV/AIDS fresh," said Hall.

Also, debate still rages on whether or not the university should introduce compulsory undergraduate courses on the topic. And while the word "interdisciplinary" gets bandied about freely on campus, it hasn't quite yet become the done thing in HIV/AIDS research. Another loophole was that postgraduate research, the driver for much of the work in the area, more often than not doesn't make it into published form.

Another worry is why so few staff - just 426 over two years - took up the offer of free testing and counselling of the Direct AIDS Intervention programme set up by UCT, or that offered by Discovery Health.

Most of these issues remain unresolved and discussions will continue. But, in the meantime, there are other opportunities for UCT.

One of these, suggested by a hoarse Professor Nicoli Nattrass, director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit, is that UCT take a very public leadership position on the issue.

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