Bongekile Macupe

IT IS A fact that young pupils engage in unprotected sex and the results are 94 000 teenage pregnancies a year – and hundreds of young women terminate their pregnancies.

This has prompted Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to take action.

If young, hot-blooded pupils will not go to the clinics, the clinics will come to them. This is the master plan Motsoaledi revealed at an SA Medical Association conference this week.

He said it was among the NHI pilot projects to re-engineer primary healthcare in the country.

But how exactly will the school health programme decrease the number of teenage pregnancies at schools?

The strategy is to focus on protected sex as Motsoaledi acknowledges sex is taking place.

If parents and principals agree to let their children receive contraceptives, trucks packed with birth control tools will be dispatched to schools.

However, parents and principals have to agree and accept that there is a moral conundrum regarding sexually active teenagers.

The government would not dictate to them, said Motsoaledi.

He wants principals to speak to their school governing bodies for a consensus.

However, Jonathan Snyman from the SA Institute of Race Relations said Motsoaledi’s truck clinics were just addressing the symptoms and not the root cause, which is boredom.

Snyman suggests simple but practical solutions to distract them from having sex.

“It is a good idea but it won’t address the issues that lead to teenage pregnancy,” he said.

“Children need to have alternative entertainment to keep busy and not turn to sex, alcohol and drugs for fun,” said Snyman.

However, there is another moral dilemma here.

While Motsoaledi says most have adopted a head-in-the-sand approach, sex at schools is most definitely a reality.

“We can’t go on pretending,” he has warned.

As Motsoaledi points out, it used to be taboo to see a schoolgirl pregnant, but these days “it is the order of the day”.

The minister blasted the conservative approach to talking about or acknowledging that teenagers are actually having sex.

He expressed shock at the fact that teachers at a KwaZulu-Natal primary school who were distributing condoms to pupils had been criticised recently.

“What did you want the people to do?” he asked.

He said 60 girls were falling pregnant at the school every year.

“Since the school started distributing condoms, the pregnancy rate has dropped by half,” said Motsoaledi.

He said people claimed that issuing condoms to schoolchildren was teaching them to have sex.

Yet between 1997 and 2008, 750 young girls had undergone abortions in public healthcare facilities. This indicated they were having sex anyway, without such “teaching”.

Motsoaledi might have a challenge convincing parents, even though school governing bodies have welcomed the health programme.

They believe issues of teenage pregnancy are social ills that need to be addressed by parents.

Kathy Cullaghan, secretary of Governor Alliance, a parents’ association, emphasised the need for a change of mindset.

“Parents need to sit down with their children and talk to them about pregnancy,” said Cullaghan.

Tim Gordon, CEO of The Governing Body Foundation said healthcare problems at schools were too big to be addressed by one department.

He said the healthcare programme would help teachers who dealt with pregnant pupils and substance abusers.

Meanwhile, SA Democratic Teachers’ Union spokesperson Nomusa Cembi, said the union welcomed the programme and hoped it would assist teachers.

She said it would be successful at schools as long as it didn’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the schools – with children going to the clinic during school hours.

Motsoaledi said the services would not be be offered in school hours.

The health programme will start in the 10 pilot districts, and will target poorer schools.

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