Official figures which show that about 2 000 girls and young women are infected with HIV every single week in South Africa is in itself a startling statistic.
But what should really be of enormous concern is the ripple effect of what is clearly still a rampant infection rate despite decades of attempts to address it through a myriad campaigns and educational endeavours.
The impact of what is now an almost 40-year-old global pandemic on an entirely new, younger generation in our country – who are the worst affected segment in society – speaks for itself.
It is felt in the inevitable absenteeism from compromised immune systems – at both school and tertiary level – with resulting poor academic results.
And even non-infected youth may suffer similar setbacks if they are responsible for taking care of older family members who may be HIVpositive.
It is a grim scenario which requires a redoubling of efforts to address root causes – already well established, such as poverty, lack of practical sex advice, and a growing generational gap disconnect.
A new basic education policy is a pragmatic approach to these staggering figures, which is also the first to address HIV and the equally disturbing spread of TB together, the effects of which are similar on students and pupils’ academic performance.
One of the key policy elements is ensuring the provision of male and female condoms to children over the age of 12 – a directive which may raise some eyebrows but which is undoubtedly a realistic approach given what extensive research has revealed.
This will naturally have to be effectively managed in conjunction with teachers and school authorities to ensure – especially among younger teens – a full appreciation of what the health drive entails.
We can only hope it begins making serious inroads into what is a ticking time bomb – which not only affects quality of life today, but also paints a bleak outlook if HIV infection continues unabated.
Authorities can also only do so much – it is in our homes where much of the groundwork for informed, sensible and healthy lifestyle choices is laid.