Your health is in your hands. This is the key message from HIGHER HEALTH to the 2021 first-years and returning students.
Student health and wellness is at the heart of every student’s ability to progress through their course of study and complete the tertiary education which benefits not only the students but their families, communities and country.
HIGHER HEALTH is the agency mandated by the Department of Higher Education and Training, responsible for promoting student health and wellbeing, addressing social and developmental challenges, providing solutions in response to the current COVID-19 crisis and to youth epidemics that surround the first-year students within the post-schooling education and training sector (PSET).
South Africa has a high rate of youth epidemics: HIV, other STIs, TB, unplanned pregnancy, gender-based violence, abuse of drugs and alcohol, anxiety and other mental health pressures.
Even before the pandemic, these health challenges disrupted the lives and academic successes of many students. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these conditions and caused unprecedented changes which upset the habitual lives of students.
“We place such emphasis on student health and wellness because evidence proves that as students leave their homes to pursue tertiary education, they are inclined to enjoy the liberties, independence and sense of adulthood afforded by the new environment – often with limited consideration of their future. This sets back academic progress and forces some students to abandon their studies,” says Professor Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of HIGHER HEALTH.
“As we welcome the first-year students and returning students to the 2021 academic year, we urge them not to take their youthful strength and health for granted, but to prioritise and protect it. We call on our students and student leadership to acknowledge the essential role they play within the PSET social network. We ask for their pledge to solidarity and a social compact where we look out for one another’s safety relating to COVID-19, but also to be mindful about sexual relationships, mental health and other health and wellness priorities.”
HIGHER HEALTH provides a number of comprehensive programmes, encompassing prevention, health promotion, education through in-classroom and out-of-classroom activities, early risk detection of youth pandemics and case management through treatment, care and support services for health conditions that place people at risk during tertiary studies. In 2020, HIGHER HEALTH established a network of thousands of capacitated individuals, across all campuses, through on-campus trainings, building capacity among 5000 students and over 30000 frontline staff to manage the COVID-19 virus and the effects of the disease in the post-school environment.
This capacity building further fortified HIGHER HEALTH’s established peer-to-peer network and education programme which has connected hundreds and thousands of students, across all public sector universities and TVET colleges over the last decade. The programme enables students to experience face-to-face, classroom based, on-line, peer-to-peer learning, education and knowledge generation. Peer educators facilitate this process through individual discussions, dialogues and workshops. It is here that students access bio-metric and high-risk assessments (particularly first-year students) and links to services.
“This way we empower students to take their health into their own hands,” highlights Professor Ahluwalia.
He also acknowledges that PSET institutions have an important role to play in ensuring the vaccine rollout meets its goals. HIGHER HEALTH is developing a phased PSET vaccination strategy that is aligned to the National Department of Health strategy, prioritising frontline PSET healthcare staff, health science students, essential and frontline support staff, and thereafter staff and students with comorbidities, as well as general staff and students. HIGHER HEALTH will also partner with the Health Department to train volunteers within the post-school education sector to assist with administering the vaccine.
Some of the tailor-made tools and mechanisms that students and staff can use to protect and improve their health and wellbeing are:
HIGHER HEALTH’s digital platform HealthCheck is a daily COVID-19 screening and monitoring tool for assessing one’s level of risk prior to entering campuses. It transmits data to the national tracking system.
24-hour tollfree helpline
Call 0800 36 36 36
Anxiety, stress, depression, thoughts and attempts at suicide and other mental illness and gender-based violence present high risks to students and staff. This dedicated tollfree 24/7 helpline is run by experienced psychologists, social workers and counsellors and provides support in all 11 official languages.
Ten fully furnished mobile clinic units bring health services to remote and under-resourced colleges and universities around the country. The roving fleet provides primary healthcare with specific focus on the youth epidemics addressed by HIGHER HEALTH and COVID-19.