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Sunday Times-South Africa
Varsities danger zones as US cuts AIDS funds

<p>Denise Williams</p>

May 14, 2013

A big cut in US funding for South Africa's HIV-Aids programmes could lead to an increase in infections at universities and colleges.

Briefing the parliamentary portfolio committee on HIV-Aids in Cape Town last week, SA National Aids Council CEO Fareed Abdullah said funding from the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief will be reduced from $549-million (over R5-billion) in 2011 to $270-million in 2017.

He said HIV-Aids prevention and awareness programmes at colleges and universities would be among those hit by the funding cut.

Watered-down assistance could lead to an increase in the prevalence of HIV-Aids, particularly among female students, he said.

He said that colleges and universities were trying to get donors and government to fill the funding gap left by the US cutback .

"The situation is not good; we don't have the funding that we need and, frankly, I am concerned about this," said Abdullah.

Programmes that will be affected include HIV-Aids education, the distribution of free condoms, HIV testing and counselling.

"We'll end up with the tragic situation of a young person going to a university or college to get a degree or qualification [and leaving] with HIV,'' he said.

Abdullah was particularly concerned about the "sugar daddy phenomenon", in which students have unprotected sex with older men in exchange for money or gifts.

He said it was estimated that an additional R15-million a year was needed if colleges and universities were to be able to fund their health services programmes adequately.

The deputy director-general of strategic health programmes in the Health Department, Dr Yogan Pillay, said the US started cutting its funding because South Africa was one of the biggest economies in Africa and was a member of the Brazil, Russia, India and China bloc known as Brics

"There was a feeling that there were more deserving countries to the north," said Pillay.

ANC MP and co-chairman of the portfolio committee Bevan Goqwana said other Southern African Development Community countries would suffer as a result of the reduced funding. This was because many HIV-infected people came to this country for government-funded treatment.

He said he was worried that the cut in funding would counter the inroads that had been made in fighting the disease.

"For [the funding] to just disappear is concerning," said Goqwana.