Condoms at schools today?
Grade 7 pupils could start receiving condoms at school today as the Health Ministry yesterday officially launched the much-talked about Integrated School Health Programme.
Although the programme offers pupils various services like oral health, nutritional and speech assessment, the offering of contraceptives to pupils from Grade 7 has been the bone of contention which has seen both the health and basic education ministries opinions differ.
The programme was launched at two schools in Cullinan, outside Pretoria, by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, President Jacob Zuma, Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty and four provincial MECs of health.
Basic education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said Minister Angie Motshekga was on leave and would return to work today. According to a policy document, the programme will cover pupils from Grade R to Grade 12, including pupils at Further Education Training level.
Services for grades R to six include oral and hearing examinations, de-worming, mental health, vision and a general counsellor to detect signs of physical and/or sexual abuse. These will be done at schools by professional nurses.
Additional services like the issuing of contraceptives, counselling on male circumcision, drug abuse and substance abuse and suicide would be available to grades 7 to 12.
Pupils will use a wellness passport when consulting with the school nurse and this will act as a confidential medical record which pupils can keep at home. A task team made up of professionals from the departments of health, basic education and social development would monitor the programme.
The programme kicked in immediately in 10 districts across the country and would affect 12-million pupils. Each province has it's own districts, with KwaZulu-Natal having two districts. These are the same districts where the National Health Plan is being piloted.
Motsoaledi said: "The programme is urgent. Our system is curative. We wait for people to fall sick and then we fix them. Here is a system that is preventative and has various packages of services."
The minister did not want to be "brought into the condom debate".
He, however, supported the inclusion of sexual reproduction education in the programme. He said even though it was not new "culturally", parents were still shy to talk about sex with their children.
"In Zulu culture, an older sister would guide her younger sister in matters of love and sex. We can't shy away from this subject now. It's a painful reality and we have an obligation as parents to talk to our children about sex," said Zuma.
One of the 500 health professionals that have been roped into the programme is Annah Bonoko, a school nurse since 2008. She visits between 15 and 20 schools per year.
"I see about 10 pupils at each school per day. Common ailments are ring worms and minor injuries. It's a great programme. It forces us to be extra careful because we deal with children," she said.