Minister gets to the root of healthy sex

2013-11-03 06:00

The government is preparing to launch a massive family planning campaign aimed at reducing the number of teenaged girls who fall pregnant – but it won’t work without the backing of parents, schools and the broader community, said Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

He told MPs this week that girls under the age of 18 were responsible for just 8% of births. But when it came to the numbers dying in childbirth, the rate soared to 36%.

Young mothers were also more likely to have premature babies, many of whom died because they weren’t ready to come out of the womb.

All these deaths could be prevented by giving young girls better access to family planning, said Motsoaledi.

Briefing Parliament’s health portfolio committee this week, he said planning for the campaign had been underway for six months and would be announced soon.

“I can tell you it’s going to be huge and many young people are going to see the possibility of saving their lives or avoiding unnecessary pregnancies.”

But he stressed the need for communities’ buy in. “When this family planning (campaign) starts, will people be open to it?” he asked.

Nurses were on daily basis confronted with sexually active young girls asking for contraception. Lack of clear guidelines and community attitudes meant nurses often insisted they get their parents’ permission first.

“Every young person who looks for family planning will never ask for permission from their parents, I am sure you know,” said Motsoaledi.

Also, the age at which girls started menstruating and were thus able to fall pregnant had dropped from about 17 to nine years. He had no control over this nor the men who had sex with under-aged girls, Motsoaledi said.

He said school governing bodies welcomed aspects of the school health programme dealing with eyesight, hearing and dental health.

But when it came to family planning and girls’ reproductive rights, it was a case of “Yes, minister, we understand, but?...”

This was where the problem lay, said Motsoaledi.

Sensational media reports were also unhelpful.

“We never said we’d be handing out condoms to seven-year-olds,” he said of one report. “We said we wanted to make them (condoms) available.”

South Africa is struggling to meet its 2015 Millennium Development Goals target of 38 maternal deaths per 100?000. The rate is currently at 269.

Motsoaledi said this can be turned around and unnecessary deaths prevented by girls being informed of their options and getting easier access to contraceptives.

“There are issues which no matter how hard we try, if the community does not move along with us, there is not much we can achieve.”

“Colourful and perfumed” condoms could soon also be standard government-issue, according to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

He has told MPs that the health department has issued a tender for brighter, better-smelling contraceptives to supplement the choice of free condoms made available by the state.

“There are condoms on the market which are colourful and are perfumed,” Dr Motsoaledi said, suggesting they could be used at higher education institutions and hotels for people who spurned the standard government-issue condoms as “too cheap”.

“Maybe the young ones will start getting attracted?... We want to find methods that will induce excitement (about using condoms),” Motsoaledi said.

The supplementary tender also called for condoms made of a “special thickness” to be issued in correctional service facilities.

“I am sure you will understand why we have to do that,” Motsoaledi said.

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