In keeping with its mandate of involving the public in the work of the committee, the Health Portfolio Committee has been holding a series of public meetings in various municipalities to consult with the people to seek solutions and strategies of dealing with health challenges facing the province.
According to the government’s National Strategic Plan on HIV and sexually transmitted infections, 39% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in South Africa, fall pregnant at least once. Almost half of the teenage mothers fall pregnant again within two years of giving birth, the report shows.
Through the Health Portfolio committee led by Hon. Lizzy Shabalala, the Legislature has been involved in campaigns that seek to create awareness on HIV/Aids and teenage pregnancy in poor communities in deep rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. This multiparty committee, together with the provincial Health Department, has visited several communities holding public meetings with the aim of encouraging parents to take initiatives that ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children.
The partnership programme between the Legislature and Department of Health targets parents, social groups and other relevant stakeholders. The public is made aware of these social ills through presentations and one-on-one interactions. Medical practitioners from Department of Health led by Dr Thami Mayise, focus on the issue of teenage pregnancy, child pregnancy, male circumcision as the contributing factor to the high increase in the number of HIV/AIDS infected persons in the province.
Dr Masiye, defined teenage pregnancy as a teenage girl, usually within the ages of 13-19, becoming pregnant whilst 12 years and less would then be considered as child pregnancy which is considered to be a worse scenario. Teenage pregnancy is a major public health concern in South Africa with more than 1/3 of SA women experiencing 1st birth by the age of 18years. Learner pregnancies are more concentrated in provinces that are mostly rural in nature like Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpompo.
“These social ills should not be a concern for government alone, but parents and the society at large need to join hands with government in fighting these social ills. The public is encouraged to do constant HIV testing, males to circumcise, and to make use of the A,B,C health precaution measures which reads: “Abstain, Be faithful and Condomise” said committee chairperson, Hon. Lizzy Shabalala.
The public was also afforded an opportunity to voice their concerns with regard to the health issues. The issue of lack of education about the epidemic came out very strongly during public interaction sessions. Access to ARVs and female condoms is still a challenge in rural communities. Shocking statistics have revealed that in the year 2014 alone, teenage/child/leaner pregnancy grew up to 19 000 in KwaZulu-Natal alone.
The public was encouraged to go to police stations and report those who infect others with HIV intentionally, so that they will be charged with attempted murder. “Intentionally infecting a person with HIV is regarded as a gross criminal activity that is punishable in our law” said Hon. Linda Hlongwa, a member of the Health Portfolio Committee.
These meetings resolved to establish a team of volunteers called Operation Mukela which will be headed by Department of Health. Its aim will be to fight the stigma that is attached to HIV/AIDS.