15 June 2017

South Africa: Improved HIV Services for Schools

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THABO MOLELEKWA writes: Access to HIV services has been made easier for school-going children and basic education employees thanks to a new national policy by the Department of Education.

The policy, launched by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mohamed Enver Surty, emphasizes access to information on prevention, counseling, testing, treatment, care and support, as well as active referrals where necessary.

This means that learners, educators, school support staff, and officials living with or affected by HIV, STIs and TB in the basic education sector will have access to an essential and holistic package of health and social services.

However, speaking on the sidelines of the launch, the Director of the Catholic Health Care Association of South Africa Yvonne Morgan, said the youth in schools should be allowed to make decisions on what they want, based on what they know.

"I think peer education is also going to play a role in schools because peers trust what they hear from each other," Ms Morgan said adding that, for the policy to succeed, the department should cultivate peer educators in schools.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which has so far unsuccessfully advocated condom availability in schools, criticized the policy for being top-down rather than bottom-up.

Speaking for TAC, Ms Portia Serote said, "This is a top-down approach. Young people at the ground level, who are faced with a lot of challenges regarding HIV, were not involved in developing this policy."

She said Mr Surty did not explain what the department means by comprehensive sex education. "We don't know if condoms will be provided in schools or not," she added.

She also criticized the formation of "adherence clubs" for HIV in schools. "This will violate the rights of young boys and girls as everyone will conclude that those attending the club meetings are HIV positive," said Ms Serote.

However, Mr Surty said the policy, which is aligned to the 2017-2022 National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB for South Africa, was developed through a participatory consultative process with stakeholders inside and outside the basic education sector.

He added, "We will train teachers on new approaches as well as on life sexuality education to enable them to provide student-friendly classes and advice."

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