The SA Department of Basic Education has denied claims by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that the rollout of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for secondary school pupils is on hold, slamming a ‘disingenuous’ MSF for its “skulduggery”.
IoL reports that this comes after MSF said that the department allegedly barred its programme team from offering pupil-testing services on school grounds in King Cetshwayo District in KwaZulu-Natal.
MSF called on the DBE to release clear guidelines on the implementation of school-based sexual and reproductive health services.
But the DBE is quoted in the report as saying it had noted, with concern and disappointment, the MSF statements. The department said it has made a commitment to provide learners with comprehensive sexual education and direct health services at schools and the work was continuing. It said that the national policy on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and TB for pupils, educators, and others, was now at school advocacy and implementation level.
“Since 2012, the department has been offering health services to pupils through the integrated school health services, including education on sexual reproductive health services and referral to health facilities for the service. Since the new policy is making provision for SRH services, the department has since updated the package of health services in the ISHP to include HIV, the provision of SRH services in the school package including making condoms available and HIV counselling and testing (HTC).”
The department said it was disingenuous for MSF to make allegations that suggest that the department was not fulfilling its commitment on this matter, adding that MSF representatives were fully aware of the work being done as they had been consulted as well.
“The guidelines they mention are actually being finalised for release next week,” the department is quoted in the report as saying. “It is unwise for an organisation such as MSF to resort to skulduggery when a simple request for information would suffice, especially where it is unnecessary because due to their proximity to the department they have an advantage.”
MSF said learner-testing in its well-established school health programme in King Cetshwayo District, KwaZulu-Natal, fell 74% in 2018 after the programme team was allegedly barred by the district education department from offering services on school grounds, reports The Citizen.
In June 2017, the DBE adopted the national policy on HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and TB, saying that learners can and should start receiving school-based SRH services. But, the report says, provincial governments cannot begin to implement this policy until the DBE provides implementation guidelines describing how health services for pupils should be offered. The guidelines have been drafted but are yet to be released 20 months after the DBE adopted its policy.
In March 2018, MSF said it was concerned by the DBE’s lack of motivation to provide implementation guidance on the national policy on HIV, STIs, and TB. MSF deputy Musa Ndlovu said the roll-out of SRH services for secondary school pupils was still on hold, nearly two years after the government made a commitment to provide high school pupils with direct health services at schools.
“Starting in 2012, we have been offering HIV testing in up to 38 secondary schools in the King Cetshwayo District as a way of helping to reduce the very high rate of HIV infection among youth,” Ndlovu is quoted in the report as saying. “It has been our experience that learners engage best with SRH services when these are offered inside schools and within school hours.”
Ndlovu said the MSF programme was able to test 5,894 learners in 2017 by working inside schools, whereas the number of tests provided fell to just 1,203 in 2018 when the mobile clinic was located outside the school gates.
“When services are located outside premises it means learners must use them as they leave school, but often they are rushing to catch some form of transport at this time, or in a group of friends, which raises confidentiality issues,” Ndlovu said.
The report says MSF currently runs two school health programmes in different areas of the country, both in partnership with local authorities and health facilities.