SANAC Joins the Sexual and Reproductive Health Campaign for Northern Cape Youth
The Northern Cape Province hosted the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and Healthy Lifestyle Campaign on 14 April 2023 at the Sol Plaatjie University in Kimberley. Led by the Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the SRH Campaign was aimed at raising awareness about the importance of accessing reproductive health services to prevent both unintended pregnancy,sexually transmitted infections and HIV transmission among young people.
The campaign was supported by the South Africa National AIDS Council (SANAC), Higher Health and numerous stakeholders and targeted over 2000 tertiary students from across the Northern Cape. The aim was to address various health challenges experienced by adolescent girls and young women, their male counterparts, as well as to promote access to sexual and reproduction health services, including family planning services at health facilities.
The day commenced with a march to raise awareness about the dangers associated with illegal and unsafe abortions, followed by physical activities to promote a healthy lifestyle to prevent and manage non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers.
Speaking at the event, SANAC’s National Youth Ambassador Ms Koketso Rathumbu spoke briefly about the #ZikhalaKanjane National HIV Prevention Strategy as it aligned with the sexual reproductive health campaign. She explained that the strategy emphasised the need for youth-led approaches in the development, coordination, and operationalisation of key youth interventions. The strategy also seeks to reach all young people in their diversity to ensure that no one is left behind in the country’s response to HIV, TB and STIs. Ms Rathumbu indicated that this particular strategy aimed at giving the country an integrated approach to the provision of health services for young people. “All of us have different initiatives that we are doing in our corners but how about we integrate health and social initiatives so that we are able to ensure that young people have agency; they adopt health seeking behaviour and are able to also resonate with health messaging in a language that speaks to them. The strategy is saying let’s work towards a common goal; let’s have an over-arching goal that we are all gravitating towards,” said Koketso in an impassioned plea.
As part of build-up activities, The Northern Cape Department of Health held a dialogue with young people at Francis Baard District Municipality chambers a day leading up to the campaign. Young people engaged robustly on issues relating to health, STIs, HIV Prevention, sexual and reproductive health services, illegal abortions and social behaviour change in general. These discussions centred around challenges experienced by young people at health facilities, as well as accessing health commodities, such as condoms, from designated spaces in communities.
Students raised critical questions regarding the health sector in the Northern Cape with respect to the lack of service delivery. Some of the issues raised were that the LQBTQI sector faces challenges at local clinics and they feel nurses are less informed about LGBTQI health issues and specific health needs. They added that health services and campaigns in the Northern Cape Province are focused more on heterosexuals rather than focusing on the broad spectrum of sexual identities.
In response to the issues raised by the young people in attendance, the Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo said, “Students need to graduate alive. Sex education in this era is a necessity in schools in order for our graduates to always have preventative techniques as part of the learning curve. The health sector should also take into consideration the psychological needs of young people.”
The MEC for Health in the Northern Cape, Mr. Maruping Lekwene said that the province should acknowledged the inputs by students and admitted that some clinics were overcrowded making it difficult for them to provide services effectively. He also added that the student population in Kimberley had increased calling for the need for more facilities (which he committed to prioritise).