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March 2018

IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT SEX

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Sonto Sikhosana is an AYFS Coordinator and joined CHIVA South Africa team six years ago. In her latest blog she tells us about her work and why she thinks it is important.

It is never easy to talk openly about sexual health. For young people in South Africa, fear of judgement and lack of confidentiality are huge barriers that shut down the conversation before it has begun. It’s a silence that can costs lives. This discussion is one that needs to happen if they are to have the information and skills they need to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.

We see the same situation in so many clinics. When young people – mostly girls – come for help, they have little choice but to take time, sometimes whole days, out of school. Their partners often don’t accompany them and many will wait hours to see a health worker. With communication challenges between healthcare workers and young people, it can be hard for young girls to ask questions and talk openly about safer sex, family planning, or the risks of HIV and STIs.

In South Africa, HIV is an epidemic of youth. That’s why the Department of Health has set a series of 10 ‘Adolescent and Youth Friendly Services’ (AYFS) standards to make sure that clinic services are meeting the needs of the country’s young population.Condom Demonstration

As supporting partners, CHIVA SA works directly with all staff in clinics in KwaZulu-Natal as they work towards achieving AYFS status. Delivered through monthly support visits and tailored one-to-one mentoring, we provide the guidance, resources and skills each team will need to achieve accreditation. Through analysis of feedback from young people using the clinics, we help make sure that the voices of their young clients are heard.  Promoting youth-focused initiatives – whether through the fast-tracking of school-aged attendees, offering ‘Happy Hour’ health education and consultation sessions, or school-based outreach – encourages young people to attend for services that now meet their needs and preferences.   One of our jobs is to break down communication barriers so that young people know they can discuss their concerns in a welcoming, confidential and non-judgemental environment.

It can take time. But having worked with CHIVA SA for six years and seen over 50 clinics ‘graduate’, I can tell you that our mentoring works. Together with our clinic partners we are starting a conversation that empowers young people to become involved in decisions that affect their health and say, ‘Yes. I need this. This is good for me’.

‘There’s such passion here, it’s contagious!’

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“We work with people, and I am proud to part of an organisation I know will make a difference to their lives.”

Sheena Lott joined our South Africa team in November as the new Deputy Country Director. In her first blog she tells us what she’s enjoying about being part of the team and how our work is making a difference.

It wasn’t until I worked with a local hospital that I saw what HIV really meant for South Africa. I had seen it from afar of course… young people were often withdrawn from our education programmes because of illness. But it was a shock to see the actual impact. Too many people were dying – especially children.

South Africa was country in denial, and I soon found myself involved in advocacy work. That’s where I met CHIVA South Africa. We delivered a number of projects together. I knew them, and I believed in their approach.

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I love being part of the CHIVA SA team, especially working to build the capacity of local clinic staff. It’s the right approach. I know that if we can build people’s skills, we can create change at community level, roll-out new projects, and work from the bottom, up. The challenge is making sure that everyone – clinic staff, communities – is on the same page. But there’s such passion here, it’s contagious!

I saw it in my first week, when our teams helped diagnose a young boy presenting with TB. If CHIVA SA hadn’t been there, he would never have known his HIV status. That’s when it hit me. There are so many cases that are being missed – and so many others at risk.

The government is taking South Africa’s youth-epidemic seriously, and we are not afraid to lead the way. CHIVA SA has great ambition for 2018, and I look forward to seeing the change – from beginning to end, and everything in-between. I am particularly excited to see our Adolescent and Youth Friendly Services (AYFS) grow, and I believe that by aligning ourselves with national priorities, this year will be CHIVA SA’s chance to shine: our work is all encompassing. If you have a youth-friendly clinic, you’re going to address prevention, you’re going to address treatment, and you’re going to address long-term care.

That’s why our work matters. We don’t just deal with numbers, statistics or caseloads. We work with people, and I am proud to part of an organisation I know will make a difference to their lives.