Sonto Sikhosana is an AYFS Coordinator and joined CHIVA South Africa team six years ago. In her latest blog she tells us about her work and why she thinks it is important.
It is never easy to talk openly about sexual health. For young people in South Africa, fear of judgement and lack of confidentiality are huge barriers that shut down the conversation before it has begun. It’s a silence that can costs lives. This discussion is one that needs to happen if they are to have the information and skills they need to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.
We see the same situation in so many clinics. When young people – mostly girls – come for help, they have little choice but to take time, sometimes whole days, out of school. Their partners often don’t accompany them and many will wait hours to see a health worker. With communication challenges between healthcare workers and young people, it can be hard for young girls to ask questions and talk openly about safer sex, family planning, or the risks of HIV and STIs.
In South Africa, HIV is an epidemic of youth. That’s why the Department of Health has set a series of 10 ‘Adolescent and Youth Friendly Services’ (AYFS) standards to make sure that clinic services are meeting the needs of the country’s young population.
As supporting partners, CHIVA SA works directly with all staff in clinics in KwaZulu-Natal as they work towards achieving AYFS status. Delivered through monthly support visits and tailored one-to-one mentoring, we provide the guidance, resources and skills each team will need to achieve accreditation. Through analysis of feedback from young people using the clinics, we help make sure that the voices of their young clients are heard. Promoting youth-focused initiatives – whether through the fast-tracking of school-aged attendees, offering ‘Happy Hour’ health education and consultation sessions, or school-based outreach – encourages young people to attend for services that now meet their needs and preferences. One of our jobs is to break down communication barriers so that young people know they can discuss their concerns in a welcoming, confidential and non-judgemental environment.
It can take time. But having worked with CHIVA SA for six years and seen over 50 clinics ‘graduate’, I can tell you that our mentoring works. Together with our clinic partners we are starting a conversation that empowers young people to become involved in decisions that affect their health and say, ‘Yes. I need this. This is good for me’.