Birth control bombshell for KZN health dept

Mayibongwe Maqhina, The Witness

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal's health department is battling a birth control bombshell after insisting women students chosen to study pharmacy in India be injected with contraceptives.

Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo announced the measure at a farewell dinner for 30 students - 12 of whom are female - in Durban on Monday, catching the bursary recipients totally unaware.

“We are going to inject it here,” he said, mimicking a hypodermic needle stabbing his upper arm. “For three years, you won’t fall pregnant.”

No precautionary measure was, however, announced for the male students, causing the Commission for Gender Equality to call it outright discrimination.


Keeping the focus firmly on the female students, Dhlomo continued: “Whether you are in a relationship or not, we are to give you contraceptives so that you don’t fall pregnant.”

The department and the private sector are footing the R20m bill for the students’ full bursaries.

Dhlomo said students would be injected with Implanon, which is the size of a matchstick and placed under the skin of the upper arm to provide contraception for up to three years.

His announcement was initially met with some laughter on Monday. But now others are fuming as a storm builds over the move.

On Tuesday, the health department failed to answer questions about the seeming double standards in the treatment of the students, whether there was any consultation on the issue, and whether the students were required to sign consent forms.


Commission for Gender Equality spokesperson Javu Baloyi described the move as discriminatory and a violation of the rights of the female students.

“The only thing they should have done is to raise awareness, rather than make them take contraceptives,” he said.

“Educate and not discriminate against others,” he insisted, and he questioned how male students on the programme would be treated.

“We should strive for equality here. It [forced contraception] is against the right of individuals.”

Lesley-Ann Forster of the Masimanyane Women Support Centre said while youth pregnancy was a concern, it was unacceptable for the female students to be forced to use the contraceptive.

“The department will be in violation of their rights. They [students] should be able to say ‘we want it or not’,” she added.

'Just to assist you'

Dhlomo referred to four female medical students who received bursaries to study in Cuba and had to abandon their studies after falling pregnant.

“I am signing off that all the girls, before they leave on Wednesday, are given Implanon so that they don’t fall pregnant,” he said, referring to the new group set to leave for India.

“If you take this opportunity and mess it up, you must not blame anybody,” the MEC added.

Premier Senzo Mchunu nodded in agreement, confirming with: “I like what Dr Dhlomo is saying. [It is] just to assist you.”

One parent, who asked not to be named, said: “I am not happy with this, but I have to agree for the sake of my child. How else can she afford to go and study?

“As much as this is a good thing to do, I would not expect my daughter to be given the contraception. I know the kind of person she is,” she said.

The mother claimed they had not known about the mandatory injection of the contraceptive until Dhlomo announced it.

“They have not asked for our opinion,” the mother said.

Health department responds:

Province has noted a recent rise in the number of students falling pregnant whilst studying.

MEC Dhlomo’s call [to] our girl students to be introduced to contraceptives is thus a means to ensure that they come back qualified; their dreams fulfilled and ready to serve their communities. The choice of Implanon as a preventative method is based on the fact that:

- Insertion takes less than one minute and is conducted under local anaesthetic, meaning no pain.

- Women do not have to return to the clinic until it is removed;

- The rod can remain in place and provide continuous contraception for up to three years, and that;

- Once a woman decides to plan a pregnancy; the implant is removed and her previous fertility returns quickly thereafter.

Before Implanon is inserted, the students are counselled on the wisdom of the initiative. The good thing is that they are all over 18 and can make informed consent.

The department was asked to respond to:

- Why they made Implanon compulsory;

- If students and parents had to give consent;

- To comment on whether their action amounted to violation of the students rights and discrimination;

- What measures/conditions are in place for the male students.

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