The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has described Doctors Without Borders as “dishonest” after the NGO accused the department of failing to properly implement policies that address sexual health in schools.
DURBAN - The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has described Doctors Without Borders as “dishonest” after the NGO accused the department of failing to properly implement policies that address sexual health in schools.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the roll-out of critical sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for secondary school pupils is being held back by a lack of guidance from the DBE and provincial governments on how these services should be implemented.

Key among the challenges highlighted by MSF is that SRH services are not being provided on school premises during school hours, which has caused a decline in the number of pupils benefiting from the service.

It said testing in its school health programme in the King Cetshwayo District fell 74% last year after the programme team was barred by the district from offering services on school grounds.

“It has been our experience that pupils engage best with SRH services when these are offered inside schools and within school hours,” said Musa Ndlovu, the deputy field co-ordinator for MSF.

Ndlovu said that in 2017 the MSF programme was able to test 5894 pupils by working inside schools, whereas the number of tests provided fell to just 1203 last year, when the mobile clinic was outside the school gates.

“When services are located outside the premises, it means pupils must use them as they leave school, but often they are rushing to catch some form of transport or are in a group of friends, which raises confidentiality issues,” Ndlovu said.

DBE fired back, calling the MSF statement misleading.

The department said it has made a commitment to provide pupils with comprehensive sexual education and direct health services at schools, and the work is continuing.

“Between February 14 and August 30, 2018, policy advocacy workshops were conducted in all nine provinces. Provincial advocacy implementation plans were developed during the meeting and provinces are at different stages of the implementation plans,” the statement said.

“It is unwise for an organisation such as MSF to resort to skulduggery when a simple request for information would suffice. The true motive of their conduct will become clear in time, but for now we remain focused on the job at hand,” said the DBE.

Vee Gani of the KZN parents’ association said they were not aware of the issues between MSF and the department, but said dealing with sexual matters during school time was fraught with challenges and could pose legal challenges.

- THE MERCURY