By Themba Gadebe
African Universities should be on the forefront on research, education and the implementation of mechanisms that would prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
"Historically, our universities have enjoyed a high degree of independence in finding solutions to the challenges we face,' she said.
Minister Pandor was speaking at the launch of the Higher Education HIV and AIDS (HEAIDS) Programme in Pretoria.
While the Department of Education was responsible for developing HIV and AIDS policies and strategies for higher education as a sector, she said, universities should find solutions to the challenges.
"So I feel both justified and comfortable in sharing the responsibility for the sectors HIV and AIDS response with our vice-chancellors through Higher Education South Africa (HESA),' Minister Pandor said.
She said the higher education sector has more resources than community structures, including intellectually gifted and finely skilled human resource.
"Our opportunities to make a difference are much larger and more varied. Some outstanding leadership has emerged from the higher education sector,' Minister Pandor said.
This HIV and AIDS programme seeks to strengthen the capacity, systems, and structures at the higher education sector in managing and mitigating the causes, challenges and consequences of HIV/AIDS in the sector.
It also sought to strengthen the leadership role that should be played by the higher education sector.
The programme will provide support to the Department of Education and HESA to achieve the vision of a national education and training system which contributes towards improving the quality of life.
Minister Pandor said some members of the higher education community had made huge contribution in the country but questioned if the sector as a whole supported the national HIV and AIDS response.
"We need to ask ourselves whether the higher education sector as a whole is supporting the national HIV and AIDS response with vigour, skills, knowledge and commitment,' she said.
Further, the minister said part of the HIV and AIDS response needed in Higher Education was to teach students about HIV and AIDS to prepare them for the future.
Minister Pandor added that learners should be taught on the kinds of research conducted and the services provided to the general community through partnerships, outreach programmes and the practical work expected from professional students.
"We are convinced that the higher education system can play an important role in shaping attitudes and practices of future decision-makers, and, in so doing, further prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS,' she explained.
It is estimated that 38.6 million people around the world are HIV-positive and AIDS has killed more than 2.8 million people.