AIDS2018: Humans in the Age of HIV-Young people & SRHR

By Ngqabutho Mpofu

Nosipho Soga is a 19-year-old learner who hails from Kuyasa, a Khayelitsha township in Cape Town. She can best be described as bubbly, intelligent, engaged and relatively small for her age. It is clear that she is used to people questioning her age, assuming that she is much, much younger. So much so that she carries her Identity Document with her everywhere she goes just to prove that she is above the age of 18.

Nosipho has seen many of her peers fall pregnant and contract Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV. It is their experiences, as well as the high prevalence of HIV in this group that has fueled her activism. According to South Africa’s National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 adolescent girls still face high rates of HIV making up 37% of new infections with around 100, 000 new infections a year[1].

It is such concerns that encouraged Nosipho to join the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a membership-based organisation that advocates for the rights and interests of people living with and affected by HIV and TB.

Nosipho’s work is centered around ensuring that adolescent girls understand sexual and reproductive health rights and make sure they access these services.  TAC’s youth groups meet every Wednesday to engage on issues affecting them. These mainly relate to sugar daddies, and knowledge sharing in a context of very little sexuality education.

Nosipho argues  that “sugar daddies that engage in inter-generational relationships are a big part of the problem”. She locates this in South Africa’s socio-economic problems, arguing that many young girls resort to such relationships in order to eke out a more dignified existence in a context of extreme poverty, inequality and unemployment. These relationships typically involve a older man with greater resources and power and a significantly younger woman with no financial resources or social capital. Such distorted power relations have left many young women susceptible to intimate partner violence and less able to negotiate safe sex.

Furthermore, the short-comings of the Department of Basic Education’s Life Orientation programmes in schools, according to her, also further accentuates the problem because it is foundational in nature and does not teach learners much more than they already know.

In many instances learners are unaware of the numerous ways they can protect themselves from HIV and STI infection, as well as from unwanted pregnancies, placing them at great risk, she says.

In 2016, the State introduced the ‘She Conquers’ programme, with the intention of ensuring more economic opportunities for adolescent girls; reducing gender-based violence; significantly reducing teen pregnancies and ensuring access to youth friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. However, many youths do not know about it, says Nosipho. “we do not have access to youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services because we feel like we cannot talk about sex and sexuality to nurses at the local clinics without being judged.”

This article is part of a Spotlight special series on people who form part of so-called key populations.

[1] SANAC, “National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs: 2017-2022”, http://sanac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NSP_FullDocument_FINAL.pdf, accessed 16 July 2018.

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