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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
SOUTH AFRICA: Schools HIV Test Program on Track
Sipokazi Fokazi; Cape Argus
February 3, 2011
Independent Online (01.29.11) - Thursday, February 03, 2011

If everything goes as planned, South Africa could roll out a voluntary HIV counseling and testing (HCT) campaign in schools this February.

The health and education departments are working in consultation on campaign logistics and "special measures" to guarantee the confidentiality and support of the children. Implementation of the program will not be rushed at the expense of the students' benefit, said Fidel Hadebe, a Department of Health spokesperson.

"The needs of learners for child-specific support and follow- up requires the HCT campaign to adopt extra preparatory measures to ensure the best interests of the children involved," said Hadebe.

To avoid disrupting school instruction, the Western Cape Education Department will provide testing only on weekends and school holidays. Faiza Steyn, a spokesperson for the provincial health department, said the campaign would be carried out in the province as part of a wellness day targeting high schools. All testing, which requires parental consent, will be done in private spaces at the schools. The participation of parents, teachers, and others will be encouraged to minimize any teasing of participants.

According to Hadebe, in addition to encouraging young people to know their HIV status, HCT would also bring services to students who spend most of their time in classes, and have less time to go to clinics to be tested.

"The message we are trying to bring across to learners," said Hadebe, "is, if you are negative please stay negative. But, to those that might test positive, we are saying that we will give them the necessary support in terms of counseling and treatment."