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Campaign to end teenage pregnancy launched in eThekwini

TB HIV Care, in partnership with the eThekwini Municipality, launched the ‘0% Learner Pregnancy’ campaign on 17 August 2023. The school-based campaign was officially launched by the eThekwini Municipality Mayor, His Worship Cllr Mxolisi Kaunda, at Isolemamba High School in Durban.

The initiative follows a spike in teenage pregnancy statistics in KwaZulu-Natal, which reported over 26 000 teenage pregnancies between December 2022 and April 2023.

The initiative seeks to combat teenage and learner pregnancies by fostering an environment that empowers young girls to stay in school until Matric. This launch is a collaborative commitment between TB HIV Care and the eThekwini Municipality to create a positive impact in the lives of learners.

The well-attended launch was led by the priority populations prevention (PPPrev) eThekwini management team that spearheaded the campaign. During the event, Ntombifuthi Luthuli said, “KZN reported 26 515 pregnancies of girls aged 10-19 from December 2022 to April 2023. Of those, 1 254 were aged 14 years or younger. The eThekwini district reported most pregnancies compared to other districts, and the PPPrev eThekwini team decided to launch this initiative to reduce the number of pregnancies.”

The SABC reported that teenage pregnancy is one of the main contributing factors to the high rate of school dropouts. Therefore, this initiative also aligns with the DREAMS comprehensive HIV prevention approach to keep girls in school so they can complete their secondary education.

The PPPrev team and the schools within their allocated clusters identified peer ambassadors in the two schools (Isolemamba and Masibambane High Schools) in Nsimibini, who are learner representatives from each grade. The learners are from grade 8 to grade 11 who were trained to become role models in their schools and support the learners in their respective grades to ensure that there is no pregnancy in their schools”, added Luthuli.

The campaign has placed a strong focus on empowering learners with agricultural resources to end food insecurity in communities where we are implementing the DREAMS Programme.

“Agricultural resources were donated to the schools as learners indicated during the dialogue that was held prior to the launch that they engage in sexual activities because they support their families. The schools will be supporting learners to start gardens so that vegetables are sent to those families in need”, explained Luthuli.

According to the World Health Organization, “Every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15–19 years in developing regions become pregnant, and approximately 12 million of them give birth.”

The campaign will also educate learners on family planning and contraceptives as a prevention method. This initiative will be implemented in all thirty clusters that the DREAMS programme is implemented in within the in eThekwini district.

“All women and girls at risk of an unintended pregnancy have a right to access emergency contraception, and these methods should be routinely included within all national family planning programmes”, highlights WHO.

Launch of the Western Cape’s U=U Campaign

Chants of “U=U. Undetectable equals untransmittable” rang out in Mitchell’s Plain on Tuesday, 01 August, as MEC for Health and Wellness in the Western Cape, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, led a community walk through the streets of Westville before the official launch of the province’s U=U Campaign.

It was an important day for the province, and in the words of Premier Alan Winde, “The U=U Campaign offers us an opportunity to give the prevention and treatment of HIV the urgent priority needed to make significant inroads in fighting this disease. Our aim is to give residents living with HIV dignity and hope. This initiative will be driven with the same determination and urgency we used in delivering a world-class Covid-19 response. Through this initiative, those in our province living with HIV are given the hope that this disease does not have to determine the course of their entire lives, but rather they can grab any opportunity with the comfort of knowing that they are healthy.”

Premier Winde was joined by TB HIV Care’s Prof. Harry Hausler, who co-chaired the event in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Western Cape Civil Society Forum (CSF). Harry provided the background and context for why U=U is so important, reflecting on his time as a family physician in Canada in the 1990s when HAART was not available – and how things changed for his patients as soon as it became available, and people could live full and healthy lives.

Other speakers included Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, PLHIV Sector Lead Neliswa Nkwali, and Head of Health, Dr Keith Cloete. All reflected on the central objectives of the campaign, which aims to:

  • re-engage people living with HIV who have been lost from care;
  • ensure that everyone living with HIV is able to start and adhere to treatment; and
  • ultimately ensure that people achieve undetectable viral loads.

According to the latest numbers from the province, while 92% of people living with HIV know their status, only 59% of them are on ART, and only 21% have had their viral loads (VL) checked in recent months (92% of those whose VLs were checked were virologically suppressed). The U=U Campaign aims to close the gaps, and as Harry explained, the essence of ‘U=U’ is that from the moment a person tests HIV-positive, they should start taking ART and know their viral load. Once their viral load is undetectable (at four months), they will not transmit HIV (untransmittable) and remain healthy!

Closing the Gap in Paediatric HIV Management

South Africa is committed to reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets by 2025, whereby 95% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) know their status, 95% of those are on sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95% of people receiving treatment are virally suppressed.

In 2023 in South Africa, 92% of PLHIV know their status, 77% of those are on ARVs, and 92% of those are virally suppressed. To close the gaps, certain challenges still need to be overcome, including those associated with paediatric HIV management and care.

On Wednesday, 12 July a Family Care Day was held at Nqamakwe Community Health Centre (CHC) in the Amathole District Municipality of the Eastern Cape to address paediatric HIV management challenges – and the structural and societal barriers on the road to 95-95-95.

The event brought together key stakeholders, including the Department of Health (DOH) District Manager, the district HAST team, Ward Councillors, Old Mutual, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and Beyond Zero, all united in their efforts to improve paediatric and adolescent HIV care in a district which is struggling to make significant progress against targets.

Among the challenges:

  • Case finding among children and men
  • Linkage to treatment for all age groups
  • Viral load suppression among children under 10 years (currently at 77%)
  • Mother-to-child transmission rates leading to new child infections

A big part of the day focused on interacting with the community, raising awareness and delivering services. CHC Case Officers and Community Health Workers successfully recalled 40 of 48 children on antiretroviral therapy (ART), 14 clients received HIV testing services (HTS), Professional Nurses (PNs) and Medical Officers provided treatment and specialised care for clients with unsuppressed viral loads, while PNs led adherence counselling sessions for clients with upcoming return dates. Youngsters were also empowered through a fun and engaging “Snakes and Ladders” game, designed to educate children about treatment adherence, peer influence and family support.

Importantly, the event also established a Youth Care group for adolescents living with HIV. This group will help motivate and support newly diagnosed children and adolescents struggling with viral load (VL) suppression. Progress on VL suppression will be monitored through a Quality Improvement (QI) project.

The Family Care Day at Nqamakwe CHC highlighted the power of collective action and collaboration in tackling paediatric HIV management challenges. By addressing case finding, improving linkage to care, enhancing viral load suppression, and preventing mother-to-child transmission, the Amathole district is making meaningful strides towards achieving the 95-95-95 targets. All stakeholders remain committed to a brighter future for children and adolescents living with HIV in the region.