In March we will be moving ahead with reprinting the My Living Positively Books! We are quite excited to be able to reprint 3,000 copies. This is possible thanks to the support of contributions we received so far through the Global Giving Campaign. Although we are quite close to meeting our target for printing 5,000 copies, the demand is so great to get some copies out that we have decided to print what we can now with what we have. So we are in the midst of updating the treatment regimen text to taken into account positive developments in the paediatric treatment guidelines in South Africa since 2006, when the book was first published.
It is so encouraging to know that the handbook is still relevant and highly sought after almost 5 years since it was first published. For example, in early February we visited a local paediatric clinic linked to a government subsidised hospital in Durban, South Africa. The purpose of the visit was to reignite links with the clinic and to also deliver 50 My Living Positively Handbooks (isiZulu versions only). The success this clinic has made for children living with HIV and AIDS over the past 8-10 years is heart-warming. What was clear is that child-friendly health care, which is what is practiced at this clinic, is central to its success. We were amazed by the bold colours and drawings on the walls of the clinic waiting and play rooms, as well as by the games and toys that kept the children busy while they waited their turn to see the doctor or get their blood tests. It was heartwarming to seeing the smiling faces, who knew all too well what a day at the clinic holds.
In South Africa the landscape around HIV testing is changing. Since April 2010, the country has embarked on a National HIV Counselling and Testing Campaign which seeks to conduct mass opt-out testing of all South Africans. Early 2011 was ear-marked for the rollout of mass HIV testing of children in high schools. Children’s Rights Centre and the Yezingane Network together with other civil society organisations raised a number of concerns about conducting such a campaign on a mass level in a school setting which require further attention as mass HCT in schools has high and predictable likelihood of putting large numbers of children are risk of harm, including:
1. Significant challenges to meeting essential requirements of: voluntary testing, Informed choice and confidentiality in school setting.
2. On-going support services and systems for mental health and social support are weak, fragmentary and not well integrated with health services.
3. Serious Mental health and behaviour risks - Children in South Africa already suffer high rates of mental health problems. Mental health problems are known to dramatically increase post-HIV
diagnosis. Adolescents’ mental health and developmental needs mean that they have special needs, which are not currently addressed in our schools and health services.
4. Lack of Child protection services and support in schools.
5. Criminalisation and obligation to report 12-16 yo engaged in sexual activities. While there is a court challenge, currently Sections 15 and 16 of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 criminalise children between the ages of 12 and 16 years if they consent to kissing, ‘petting’ or acts of sexual penetration. Anyone who knows that consenting sexual activity is happening has a duty to report it to the police as a sexual offence. This includes their friends and parents. The existing hostile environment towards teens who are sexually active, combined with the Sexual Offences Act places children at risk of criminal prosecution.
The Minister of Health appreciated our concerns and responded by supporting a different approach to supporting Teens Testing.
We have advocated for, raised awareness and mobilised for HIV testing for children including infants, especially abandoned babies, and teens. We intend to continue this support. The HCT campaign opens unique opportunities for teens to both prevent new infections, to receive support for their sexual and reproductive health rights, to open discussions in families between children and adults about important life issues, and to ensure teens with HIV get on and stay on treatment as well as to receive the care and support they require for their holistic health. We seek to work with government to realise the campaign’s potential.
To date, the key success is that the Minister of Health of South Africa has halted the testing of teens in schools until the HCT in schools strategy and implementation plan is revised in line with agreements and concerns. The Minister is working with civil society and key stakeholders to ensure that there is adequate planning and measures in place before the mass testing of teens is rolled out in high schools in South Africa. Attached is a media briefing released by the Yezingane Network that outlines the concerns and advocacy points around mass testing of teens in schools.