Umkhanyakude has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Adolescents growing up in Umkhanyakude have almost a 50% chance of contracting HIV during their lifetime and eventually dying from the disease. Fifteen percent of female high-school students are infected with HIV by the time they graduate and many more will contract other sexually transmitted infections; twenty-five percent will be pregnant.
Despite the prevalence of HIV, adolescents receive little education on strategies to avoid becoming infected with HIV, and how to live with HIV if infected. Students are almost never tested for HIV, nor do they have access to condoms to prevent HIV. Existing clinics aren’t accessible to students because of distance and the associated cost of travel. Additionally, the services provided at clinics are often geared toward adults, and not the special needs of adolescents.
Along with HIV come very high rates of infection with tuberculosis, including multiply-drug resistant tuberculosis. Because of limited access to clean water, Umkhanyakude still suffers periodic outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases, including schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia).