“Evidence tells us that we need to have comprehensive sex education before sexual debut,” said Kumalo speaking at the SA AIDS Conference in Durban yesterday. “With respect to sex education and life skills, it must happen before sexual debut in primary school and Grade R – obviously in an age appropriate manner.”
“We can never start too soon,” added Kumalo who presented the department’s draft strategy on HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections in schools.
The policy is the first in the world to tackle the twin epidemics of HIV and TB in the education sector, she told Health-e News.
The department’s policy advocates providing sexual and reproductive health counselling to senior students as well as younger students when required given the amount of “over age” learners in the country’s schools, according to Granville Whittle, the department’s deputy director of social mobilisation and support services.
The policy also advocates for the provision of female and males condoms to all students. If approved, the policy would apply to both public and independent schools.
Teen pregnancy policy expected soon[quote float= right]When a young girl is refused access to school when she falls pregnant, she is likely to fall pregnant again within six months”
The product of about two years of extensive consultation, the document aims to test public opinion, said Whittle who added that high rates of new infections among young people, particularly women, necessitated new thinking.
“The reality is that we have got our highest HIV incidence rate among young people between 15 and 24 years so we need to think out of the box as a society,” he said. “We re certainly not on rack to achieve an HIV-free generation in our lifetime.”
Whittle also cautioned that school drop out rates, a risk factor for HIV among women, remained high nationally.
The country is currently piloting a programme that includes tutoring, career coaching and home visits for almost 28,000 young women in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape in an effort to keep young women in school.
“There is this notion that young girls get pregnancy when they are at school and this is not true,” Whittle told Health-e News. “They are more likely to fall pregnant when they have dropped out of school.”
“Young girls must not be expelled from school when they fall pregnant,” he added. “We know that when a young girl is refused access to school when she falls pregnant, she is likely to fall pregnant again within six months.”
The department is planning to release a draft strategy on teen pregnancy in three months. The period for public comment on its current draft HIV and TB policy closes 19 June.
- Never miss a story. Sign up to our weekly newsletter
- Read more Health-e News coverage of the SA AIDS 2015 conference