Young women of worth

MEC for Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo launches the Women of Worth Project.

The Department of Health has revealed that out of the 6204 women tested for HIV between 2015 to 2016, more than
1860 pregnant women in the Mitchell’s Plain and the Klipfontein area tested positive for the virus.

Health MEC, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo said girls under the age of 15 accounted for 400 of the under age pregnancies registered during the same cycle.

In light of these findings,
Dr Mbombo launched the Women of Worth Project at Oaklands High School in Kenwyn on Friday September 30.

The project is supported by the Global Fund which has awarded the department an R81 million grant in the fight against Tuberculosis (TB), HIV and teenage pregnancy among young women and girls in the Cape Metropole.

The Mitchell’s Plain pupils who attended the event were from AZ Berman, Cedar, Lentegeur, Portland, Tafelsig and Aloe high schools.

The project’s name was voted on by young women present at the launch.

Dr Mbombo said teenage pregnancy and HIV were on the rise, with 19 percent of pregnant young women coming for antenatal bookings in the Mitchell’s Plain, Nyanga, Gugulethu, Manenberg, Heideveld, Crossroads, Hanover Park and Athlone areas having tested positive for HIV between 2015 and 2016.

Dr Mbombo said the initiative would target young women between 19 and 24 years old.

“It will deliver a package of care based on an evidence-based approach that goes beyond the health sector, by addressing the drivers that increase young women’s risk to HIV, including poverty, gender inequality and poor education.

“It will provide a basket of services including self-empowerment coaching, parenting and caregiver programmes, and a combination of socio-economic incentives aimed at HIV prevention approaches,” she added.

The Global Fund’s Michael Byrne said HIV prevalence among young women and girls was much higher than among their male peers.

“Adolescent girls have an HIV prevalence of 5.6 percent, which is eight times higher than their male counterparts at 0.7 percent,” he said.

Mr Byrne said the Global Fund made strategic investments to improve the health of women and girls and promote gender equality, and had been steadily increasing its focus on women and girls.

“The Global Fund is pleased to see that the country is taking leadership, while working closely with key partners, to reach young women and girls with better prevention services. South Africa’s bold step to reduce the age of testing for HIV to 12 will allow the strategy to reach girls and women with these critical services in education platforms where girls can be reached with the services they need,” he said.

Motivational youth speaker, Simthandile Mputa, from the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Cab said the government had created health facilities to assist young people with all their health needs, but fewer young people were accessing these facilities. “This is because most of the facilities are not youth friendly or young people are afraid of community judgement when seen accessing these facilities.

“I strongly believe that everything for the youth should involve youth and be led by the youth.

“And with the support of our community, government and other support pillars, our youth will be more hands on and our facilities totally youth and adolescent friendly,” she said.

Ms Mputa said our world was changing and becoming more modern every day. She added that the youth were critical drivers of this change.

“This global digital revolution that provides us with easy access to information, coupled with our ever changing bodies have made us easy prey to early sexual debut and hence our inability to negotiate safe sex.

“We love to experiment and enjoy having fun although it tends to cost us.

“The socio-economic challenges of poverty and unemployment facing our societies have also made us easy preys to blessers who subsequently infect us with HIV and STIs. We hunger for support, motivation, guidance and understanding from our elders as much as our peers. We know what’s best for us but lack opportunities and necessary resources to live as such,” she said. Tafelsig High School principal Rushda O’Shea said it was important for her pupils to attend the event because every year there were girls who fell pregnant at the school.

“It is always shocking when a pupil walks into my office and informs me that she is pregnant. This is a great programme for our youth – and the message is conveyed in a more fun and interesting way.

“Our young people need to be fed with information about these issues because it does have an effect on their lives,” she said.

Ms O’Shea said at Tafelsig High, they have a few programmes running at the school including, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Childline.

Pupils also attend the Aids Legal Network sessions where they discuss human rights issues, Aids and teenage preganacy. Grade 9 pupil at Tafelsig High pupil Miche Pedro said the event was interesting as the issues teenage pregnacy is a concern.

“We see how young girls fall pregnant and then drop out of school in our communities. This is worrying because they are throwing their education and a life of success away.

“Our young people do not have to give in to peer pressure and feel like it is a ‘must’ to be sexually active. I hope that this project will reach our youth and make them understand that their lives or important and so is our education,” she said.

Dr Mbombo said the R81 million project would also help the department further its ongoing prevention programs for adolescents and youth in and out of school. “This will ultimately assist in reducing the prevalence of young females aged between 10 and 24 years from contracting HIV and Aids and TB. It will also help to implement an education plan for the prevention of teenage pregnancy through life skills, sexual and reproductive health education, HIV counselling and testing,” she said.