Sexual health intervention for youth

15 April 2013

Growing concern around sexual violence and abuse in South Africa has called for new interventions to educate youth on how to deal with difficult situations. One such project, PREPARE, is an international HIV and intimate partner violence-prevention research project undertaken by UCT's Adolescent Health Research Unit in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. PREPARE promotes sexual and reproductive health among adolescents in Southern and Eastern Africa by mobilising schools, parents and communities. There are four African and four European universities involved in the project which is funded by the European Union.

In the Western Cape, the project is a randomised control trial (RCT) involving 42 high schools with a total of 4,000 Grade 8 learners. The team is currently implementing its innovative and comprehensive school-based programme developed in collaboration with the Medical Research Council, the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and the Departments of Health and Basic Education.

The programme consists of three parts. The first is an interactive curriculum focusing on relationships, HIV, sexual violence and intimate partner violence. The second is a health and well-being school clinic run by nurses of the city and provincial Departments of Health. A nurse provides general health checks for each learner, as well as health education and a space to talk about their concerns relating to violence, abuse, and other matters. Another part of the programme is a partnership between teachers, parents, learners and police officers to improve school safety. School teams are trained in conducting participatory safety audits and safety planning. As part of the safety audits, students participate in a photography project to raise awareness about things in their school that make them feel safe or unsafe.

Intervention co-ordinator Joy Koech says: "It is not good enough simply to teach youngsters safety planning skills to improve their safety. No matter how good their safety planning skills are, there are many factors beyond their control that expose them to sexual and other violence. Principals, teachers, parents, police officers and others in the school community need to take action to decrease violence and make environments safer for young people."

Colourful, self-administered questionnaires are filled out by the participating Grade 8 learners, once before - and twice after - the programme, so the team can assess whether the programme decreases incidents of sexual violence and its acceptability, and prepares learners to protect themselves from HIV and STIs. Thus far, according to research co-ordinator Petra de Koker, "Ninety-five per cent of the learners love the questionnaire. They say it's interesting and educational, and they say they are learning a lot about themselves in the process."

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