During a recent visit OurHealth was met by a long line of girls and boys queuing up outside the Mphohadi Clinic in Bethlehem. These youngsters were at the clinic for a medical examination before going off to initiation school this festive session.
Due to a rising number of deaths occurring at initiation schools in recent years, the Department of Health implemented a policy compelling prospective participants to have a medical check up to determine whether they are medically fit to undergo the initiation school.
Initiation school is a longstanding tradition in the African culture and symbolises that these boys and girls are entering adulthood. The initiation school is often held in remote areas and various activities are performed, such as learning cultural values and traditional songs, dances and circumcision.
"In the past many initiates got sick and some died due to poor health conditions, infections, dehydration, low glucose levels and other health related conditions," said nurse Mokoena.
"The physical assessment that we do include voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) for HIV, testing glucose levels, blood pressure, and other body systems. After the examination the nurse determines if a person is fit to undergo the initiation, and also provide medication if needed," said Mokoena.
An important part of the medical evaluation is also to provide young people with information, advice and counselling about the initiation process. It is the child’s own choice to decide if he or she wants to go, and a signed consent form is required from the parents and child, especially when a child is underage.
"The check ups are good for our health and helps to detect any problems that might occur while we at the mountain [where the initiation school is held],” said a 19-year-old Mosia M, who didn’t want to provide his whole name.
Another initiate, Motaung S said: "In the old days the initiation school were safer and traditional doctors would use traditional medicine to help and cure any disease or infection, but today the roles have been taken over by nurses who do the check ups. I think it is a good thing."
It is widely believed that male medical circumcision at a professional health facility is much safer than the circumcision practices at traditional initiation schools.
Thamsanqa Majola is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from Bethlehem in the Free State.