The United Nations in South Africa said it was concerned by revelations about forced sterilisation of HIV positive women at South African public hospitals. Picture: Xinhua/Sunil Sharma
The United Nations in South Africa said it was concerned by revelations about forced sterilisation of HIV positive women at South African public hospitals. Picture: Xinhua/Sunil Sharma

16 Days of Activism: Local NGO wants to empower young girls to make informed decisions

By Lifestyle Reporter Time of article published Nov 27, 2020

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The pandemic and subsequent national lockdown have had a devastating social impact, as the country noted an increase in gender-based violence (GBV).

According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, making it one of the largest and most widespread human rights violations in the world.

GBV is a contributing factor to HIV infection in South Africa, which has the largest HIV epidemic in the world. Unfortunately, it’s adolescent girls and young women, between the ages of 15-24, who are disproportionately affected.

The stats offer a telling picture. According to UNAIDS, there are approximately 5 500 new HIV infections every week in this age group, adding up to approximately 785 new infections per day.

Risk factors

Why are adolescent girls and young women at a higher risk for HIV infection than their male counterparts and other age groups?

“There are numerous factors,” said Dr Albert Machinda, HIV expert, researcher and COO at Shout-It-Now, a South African NGO specialising in mobile, community-based HIV counselling, testing and prevention services.

“Stigma is one of the biggest drivers of HIV. Adolescent girls and young women choose not to get tested because they are embarrassed or fearful of what the result may be. In addition, there are larger, inherent inequalities in our society that make this group more vulnerable, including poverty, lack of opportunities, discrimination and GBV,” added Machinda.

“We aren’t winning the battle in this age group and it’s very concerning that the infection rates are so high. We need to talk more about available treatments and the effects they have in controlling the disease.

“If this is made clearer and the message is more widespread, we help to reduce the stigma and empower these girls and women to make more informed decisions”.

Available treatments

Shout-It-Now provides free HIV prevention services, including: HIV testing services, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) – a relatively new, safe and highly effective HIV prevention medication – condom provision, sexual reproductive health services (contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections screening) and behavioural interventions, to adolescent girls and young women in Gauteng and the North West, where it currently operates.

These services are aimed at empowering adolescent girls and young women to make independent, informed life decisions.

Funded by PEPFAR (the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Shout-It-Now has been working closely with the South African Department of Health to make PrEP more accessible particularly to adolescent girls and young women.

“Taken daily, PrEP is a highly effective, extra prevention option for HIV-negative people,” said Machinda.

“With proper adherence and compliance from the patient, you reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 99%”.

But Machinda adds that our biggest problem is that it is not widely known.

In partnership with the Department of Health, Shout-It-Now is working to make the medication more accessible, while providing essential education that empowers adolescent girls and young women in particular, to make an informed decision to take PrEP and prevent the risk of contracting HIV.

Holistic health solutions

In addition to free HIV testing, PrEP initiation and maintenance, and GBV prevention, awareness and post-violence care, Shout-It-Now, together with its partners, also provides a range of behavioural programmes that focus on HIV and violence prevention.

“We understand that each adolescent girl and young woman has unique needs and aspirations,” said Cristianne Wendler, Behavioural Programme and GBV Manager.

“This is why we take a client-centric approach that puts their needs at the centre of our efforts. Our services are convenient to access and are designed to empower, educate and equip each of our clients to make their own choices for the future they want.”

Clients who join Shout-It-Now are monitored and supported along their individual journey, to encourage them to complete their specific programme and set them up for a healthier future.

Contact Shout-It-Now through their WhatsApp number: +27 10 020 6021, or for more information visit https://shoutitnow.org/; or speak to a call centre agent on: +27 10 020 6021.

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