The Guard

The Truth On Board

Wits RHI brings clinics to schools

By Emily Setona

QWAQWA – The University of the Witwatersrand Reproductive Health Institution (Wits HRI) alongside its dreams partners, is taking mobile clinics to schools in a bid to reduce the rate of HIV infections and teenage pregnancies among adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24.

The principal of Riverside Finishing School Mantoa Machesa told The Guard: “I met the Wits RHI team while attending an event at Tsebo a local school here in Maluti – a – Phofung (MAP) and then decided to approach the organizers and requested that they come to my school.

“I work with a lot of young people and I see firsthand some of the challenges that they face, one being the struggle to access the clinic and receive proper medical attention.”

The district manger of Wits RHI, Gladys Jack, says they service 66 schools in MAP and all the TVET colleges in the area.

“We offer reproductive health services that include HIV screening; pregnancy screening, TB screening, STI screening and we offer Prep to those who are at risk,” Jack said.

A linkage officer for Wits RHI, Duncan Nkutha, said according to research done by their institution, adolescent girls in MAP and Nketoana have a high rate of teenage pregnancy and are at high risk of HIV infections and Gender Based Violence (GBV) because of their vulnerability in terms of socio economic factors.

“Our research shows that some of the young girls attending schools in MAP come from areas outside QwaQwa and have no support from family and then end up being used by older men who place these young women at high risk for HIV infection and teenage pregnancies,” Nkutha said.

Wits RHI’s demand recreation officer, Teboho Sejane, said: “We are a school-based programme with a focus to bring mobile clinics to high schools and TVET colleges.  Through our research we have realized that some of the young women between the ages of 15 and 24 struggle to access the clinic because of the long queues and the distance that they have to travel to get to the clinic. Some of the young women complain about the poor attitude of nurses when they go and get sexual health treatment at the clinics.”

The Wits RHI has partnered with the Department of Basic Education (DOBE) and other key stakeholders which they call their dream partners to try to curb the rate of HIV infections and teenage pregnancies. According to their research, young people want health caregivers to be patient with them when providing sexual health advice and treatment and this is one of the things that their mobile clinics offer, health caregivers who are trained to assist young people of this generation.

The risk assessment questions that most of these young women have to fill in indicate to the institution that these young women date men who are usually 10 years older than them and practice unprotected sex with their partner, have multiple partners and do not know their HIV status or of their sexual partners.

“The only way we can win against the spread of HIV is if we can change the mindset of young women. What we have realized is that young women commit to their contraceptive regimen but do not care about their HIV status. If we could influence them to take their HIV status as seriously as their commitment not to fall pregnant, then our team at Wits RHI will be winning this war against HIV,” Sejane said.