THE month of February is set to embrace love and encourage people to show love to special people in their lives. This month is also designated as Reproductive Awareness month and it includes STI and condom week and pregnancy awareness week which run concurrently from February 10 to 16. General manager of Umvoti Aids Centre Sithuthukile Mchunu encourages the community to use condoms.“While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and culture, HIV is a reality for this generation that has already taken an estimated 126 755 lives in 2017 alone, according to Stats SA. “The implication of these statistics has far reaching consequences in our communities. “According to UNAIDS 2008, the HIV infection in the African region is transmitted mostly through heterosexual intercourse. Condoms are the only key preventative measure available for people who are engaging in sexual intercourse. Key adjustments are required in society norms and customs in ensuring the livelihood of society and future generations to come.”Mchunu said teen sex is an unfortunate reality, that is evident in South Africa. “There are many contributing factors including low self-esteem, coercion, peer pressure, sex for money, lack of communication by parents, pessimism, influences of alcohol and other drugs; to name a few. There is a prevailing reluctance in young people seeking sexual and reproductive health care in health facilities due to fear of parents, neighbours, pastor finding out. It is imperative that teenagers who are already sexually active and those who are yet to engage in sex, do so safely and well informed. Condoms are key prevention method for HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.”Mchunu added that condom distribution in schools together with sexual and reproductive health education will ensure that youth are safer from HIV infection, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy, so that they can achieve their full potential.However, KZN Department of Health is concerned about high teenage pregnancy, HIV infection among young the youth from an early as 15 to 24 years old in the province. KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo asked the youth to practise safe sex as this is key to helping safeguard their positive educational and health outcomes and realise their true potential.Dhlomo urged the youth to use contraceptives to avoid unplanned pregnancy “With the number of options for contraception that are available for those who cannot abstain from sex, pregnancy is really something that should not take anyone by surprise. These options should give young people the power to choose, and only become parents when they are ready for it,” Dhlomo said. He said medical male circumcision and using condoms during every sexual episode; while combining this with female contraceptive methods - is the way to go.“We need to start talking to young people (both boys and girls) about sex and its implications for them. Yes, it may not be an easy subject, but if we don’t start the conversation ourselves, these children will end up getting advice from the wrong people. If we start the conversation early enough and plant the idea in young people that they must invest in their future by making the right decisions today, then we may start to see a reduction in the number of those who fall pregnant by mistake, and those who acquire sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV, ’’Dhlomo added. He said the department will continue to train more nurses on Adolescent and Youth User-Friendly Service (nearly 400 have already been trained). This programme empowers them with the skills to make young people feel free and welcome to seek healthcare services – from contraceptives to treatment for STIs to legal and safe termination of pregnancy - without the fear of being judged.The MEC also encouraging men to take responsibility for their reproductive health and be part of decisions concerning when to conceive; and to support, protect and respect women during their pregnancy and beyond.“The act of conceiving a baby is an elaborate and deliberate one by both parties – not just women alone. Therefore, men are equally responsible for pregnancy, and should become involved and support their partners every step of the way.”Dhlomo said government will continue to accelerate campaigns such as First Things First; DREAMS, and She Conquers, which are aimed at young people, to help them make informed choices about their sexual reproductive health.