The Department of Basic Education has noted, with concern and disappointment, misleading statements from Doctors Without Borders in which they allege that the policy on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases is not being implemented.
The allegation that the roll-out of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for secondary school learners in South Africa is still on hold is false and inaccurate.
The Department has made a commitment to provide learners with comprehensive sexual education and direct health services at schools and the work is continuing as we speak.
Here are the facts:
The DBE National Policy on HIV, STIs and TB for Learners, Educators, Schools Support Staff and Officials in the Basic Education Sector is now at School Advocacy and Implementation Level.
Between 14 February 2018 and 30 August 2018, policy advocacy workshops were conducted in all nine provinces. The workshops were attended by officials from Provincial and District Education, Health and Social Development departments, Provincial Aids Councils and partners implementing SRH programmes in schools. Provincial advocacy implementation plans were developed during the meeting and provinces are at different stages of the implementation plans.
The Department has further developed Sexuality Education Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) on Sexuality Education in the Life Orientation Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). SLPs for Grades 7 – 9 were finalised and approved in 2017 and these were piloted in FS, GP, KZN, MPU, and WC provinces. The DBE has finalised reviewing the draft SLPs for Gr 4 – 6 and 10 – 12 which were piloted in the same provinces.
Since 2012, the Department has been offering Health Services to learners through the Integrated School Health Services (ISHP) including education on Sexual Reproductive Health Services and referral to health facilities for the service.
Since the new policy is making provision for SRH services, the Department has since updated the package of Health services in the ISHP to include HIV, the provision of SRH services in the school package including making condoms available and HIV Counselling and Testing (HTC). Noting that parents and schools were complaining about learners being tested without their consent and disturbance of teaching and learning due to lack of coordinated service provision in schools, some provinces resolved to suspend SRH services in schools.
In this regard, the ISHP task team with the assistance of the USAID, developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for health services in schools to guide the testing of learners and teachers including school access and parental consent. Consultations on the SOPs were conducted in 2018 and the final draft will be released in a week’s time once all internal processes have been finalised.
It is therefore disingenuous for MSF to make allegations that suggest that the Department is not fulfilling its commitment on this matter. MSF representatives are fully aware of the work being done as they have been consulted as well.
The guidelines they mention are actually being finalized for release next week. It is unwise for an organization such as MSF to resort to skulduggery when a simple request for information would suffice especially where it is unnecessary because due to their proximity to the Department they have an advantage. The true motive of their conduct will become clear in time but for now we remain focused on the job at hand.