In a report on HIV and Aids prevalence in Zimbabwe’s higher learning institutions, the Senate thematic committee said poverty was the major crisis among university and college students.
“The committee was horror-struck that a generation was being lost and that it made no sense to train people who would serve for a year or two, then die.
“However, the committee was impressed by efforts made by Seke Teachers’ College to ensure that all underprivileged students who were taking medication for any chronic illness received at least one free meal per day,” the report said.
The committee called for the reintroduction of students’ grants at a time higher education is seen as key to financial security and tuition and living expenses are rising astronomically, making it all the more tempting for students to cut corners on food.
“At Mkoba Teachers’ College, the officials’ biggest concern was that most students cannot afford food and the college cannot afford to give them free meals. HIV-positive students from underprivileged families on ART cannot take their medication on empty stomachs.
“It was heart-rending for committee members to listen to tales of how some students survive on maputi (popcorn), while others only managed to exist on one meal per day. Mkoba Teachers’ College had worked with a non-governmental organisation to feed the underprivileged students, but the NGO had since ceased operating.”
College officials informed the committee that they were actively seeking partnerships with organisations which could assist to ensure students on ART were properly fed.
“Government, through the ministry of Health and Child Care should create one stop health centres at all universities by end of 2017 and these should provide sexual reproductive health services as well as HIV and Aids related health services.”
The report comes after Health minister David Parirenyatwa recently said his ministry and development partners should look for ways “to close the tap” of new infections.
According to National Aids Council statistics, one of the country’s biggest universities, Midlands State University, with an enrolment of 23 000 is the major driver of the Midlands province’s high rate of HIV, with cases of sexually transmitted infections shooting from 5 814 to 6 727 in one year.
A projected 1,5 million people are living with HIV in Zimbabwe, with about 790 000 estimated to be women above the age of 15 years.