File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – The Basic Education Department has refuted claims by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that there was a delay in the roll out of sexual and reproductive health services to pupils.

The international medical humanitarian organisation made the allegations last week, charging a delay in the roll out of the National Policy HIV, STIs and TB policy for learners - which allowed for pupils to have discreet access to male and female condoms - was as a result of lack of guidance from the department to provincial governments on how the services should be implemented.

The policy was drafted in 2015, with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga saying it was part of a national effort in responding to HIV, STIs and TB. It was the approved by the Cabinet in 2017.

The department on Friday said the policy was in fact being implemented.

“Since the new policy makes provision for sexual and reproductive health services, the department has since updated the package of health services in the Integrated School Health Programme to include making condoms available and HIV counselling and testing. 

"Noting that parents and schools were complaining about learners being tested without their consent and possible disturbance of teaching and learning due to lack of co-ordinated service provision in schools, some provinces resolved to suspend sexual and reproductive health services in schools,” the department said.

The department said that when they suspended the services, a task team had developed standard operating procedures for health services in schools to guide the testing of pupils and teachers, including school access and parental consent.

“Consultations on the school operating partners were conducted in 2018 and the final draft will be released in a week, once all internal processes have been finalised. 

"It is therefore disingenuous for MSF to make allegations that suggest the department is not fulfilling its commitment. MSF representatives are fully aware of the work being done as they have been consulted as well,” the department said.

MSF said pupils and teachers at its school health programme in King Cetshwayo District, KwaZulu-Natal, were frustrated at the impact of the delay of the roll out of the policy at their school as parents welcomed it. 

In 2017 it estimated that about seven million people were HIV positive with 270 000 new HIV infections annually.

Cape Times