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Date: 11/02/2007 Source: Department of Health Title: Tshabalala-Msimang: Launch of Sexual Transmitted Infections and Condom Week
Speech for Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, on the launch of Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Condom Week awareness in Madibeng City Hall, Brits, North West
Programme Director, Honourable Premier of the North-West Province, Ms Edna Molewa, Executive Mayor of Madibeng, MEC for Health in the North-West, Ms Nomonde Rasmeni, Representatives from the local government, Ladies and gentlemen, Madume tlhe:
It is indeed an honour for me to be here today on this important occasion of the launch of the national STIs and Condom awareness campaign here in Madibeng.
Firstly, though most of you will recall that sometime last year my health took some knock and I had to be hospitalised for sometime. Allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your prayers and good wishes for my speedy recovery. Ke a leboga.
We are gathered here today for the launch of a very important campaign in as far as our work as government and the Department of Health both nationally and provincially as well as locally is concerned.
The theme for the campaign this year is "Stop STIs. KEEP THE PROMISE".
This theme as you may recall incorporates some crucial elements of World Aids Day 2006 and it further reinforces the Department's commitment in the fight against STIs and other sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and AIDS. This theme reminds and calls upon us to keep the promises we have made to ourselves to stop STIs and other infections of sexual contact.
As we enter the campaign period therefore, let us, individually and collectively keep the promise in mind and put that extra effort in ensuring that there is not another infection tomorrow.
As we mark Valentine's Day on 14 February let us care for those that we love and protect them from infections brought about by sexual contact. Of crucial importance though, I wish to appeal to our youngsters in particular, please avoid sexual contact for as long as it is possible!
This call forms a central pillar of our fight against STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
To the parents, especially mothers and fathers too who are here with us today, I wish to appeal to you that please work with us in addressing these challenges. We are conscious of the many challenges facing you in keeping our children from having sex, but let us not give up.
Our history does indicate that once women unite and take action against any social ill, the impact is most likely to be immediately felt such as it happened with the Women's March of 1956. It is only once we launch a joint offensive at this level that we can begin to see some significant positive results.
You are aware by now that STIs and unwanted pregnancies and other infections of sexual contact remain one of the major health challenges that we are faced with in this country. Campaigns such as the one we are launching here today play a significant role in raising awareness around STIs among our people. This is a battle to which as government and Department of Health we are committed to.
Allow me, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, to just outline the five key objectives underpinning this campaign:
* increase public knowledge about the symptoms and management of all STIs * increase intention to access treatment and adherence to prescribed treatment * reinforce consistent and correct condom use * encouragement of partner notification * support healthcare workers in their management of people with STIs and other sexual contact infections.
Allow me, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, to talk just briefly on these key objectives.
One of the major challenges that we are still faced with as government and health workers in particular is ignorance and reluctance on the part of most of us. I am referring here to ignorance around symptoms of STIs and the tendency sometimes for people not to complete their treatment.
Through this campaign we therefore want to encourage our people to be on the lookout for these symptoms and take immediate action. People should not just sit once they discover some unusual smells and discharges coming from their private parts and hope that these will just go away! It won't just disappear. You need to immediately present yourself to the nearest clinic for professional examination, get treatment and make sure that you complete it that is adherence. The responsibility for our private health really rests with us as individuals and government sees to the provision of facilities and care.
As the Department of Health we are working hard in bringing healthcare closer to our people so that there is easy access to services that we have to offer. The Department of Health took a decision some time back to work with provinces to scale up the provision of good quality, user-friendly, patient-focused STI services in all settings including informal settlements and correctional facilities.
Through this campaign we also seek to educate our people about consistent and correct condom use particularly for debutants/first timers.
We sometimes hear stories of people who will date for whatever period of time, use condoms and then suddenly develop this dangerous trust of engaging in sex with the same partners (without any protection) having not gone for any tests. Let me say it loud and clear that this is dangerous! Let us make it a habit to always protect ourselves. Let us develop the habit of visiting our clinics for regular tests including HIV tests. In that way we are going to win the battle against these challenges.
As you will know, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, condoms form another critical block of our prevention strategy for STIs and HIV and AIDS. In our quest to ensure access, we are already distributing 400 million pieces of male condom every year, translating to 32 million condoms each month.
During the coming financial year, we are hoping to increase our monthly distribution to 40 million. Of equal importance though, the Department is working hard on accelerating the provision of female condoms and to popularise the use of these condoms.
Allow me to point out that already, these condoms are available in 245 primary sites across the country, we are working on increasing these sites so that women throughout the country are fully empowered in as far as sex and sexual matters are concerned.
Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to come to yet another critical yet sensitive issue. I am referring here to the issue of partner notification. It is important that we are honest and open to those that we say we love. Once we realise that we are no longer in a good state of health from a sexuality point of view, let us be frank and open up to those that we say we love. If we don't do this we are putting their lives in danger and this may lead to other infections or even complications especially for pregnant women. I am appealing to all of us therefore to take personal responsibility for our lives and of those we care about.
Of equal importance in driving this campaign, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, is the need to support our healthcare workers in their management of people with STIs. We understand the sensitive nature STIs and as government we are always seeking ways to develop the skills capacity of our healthcare workers so that they are able to interact with patients and really understand how they feel, what their needs are and be able to deal with their fears.
Our healthcare facilities such as clinics should be places where people/patients feel comfortable to go to once they discover symptoms associated with STIs and as the Department of Health we are not willing to compromise on this area.
Coupled with this, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, the Department of Health has been training Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) in the identification of symptoms and the referral of patients presenting with STIs. Of the 37 000 THPs, 3 000 have already received this training and we are working on increasing this number. These trained practitioners provide an accessible condom distribution point in partnership with local primary healthcare facilities.
We know that one of the serious challenges that we are faced with as a country is the un-balanced power relations between men and women and boys and girls. Through its life skills programmes, the Department has made significant progress in helping the youth to understand gender relations including the skills required to reduce one's chances of acquiring STIs. We encourage both boys and girls to apply these skills and also talk more openly about sex and sexuality.
Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to call upon all South Africans to treat this campaign with the seriousness it deserves. STIs are a serious health challenge and like most diseases, their consequences if untreated can be serious and fatal. An untreated STI increases the chances for one to develop further complications. Untreated STI can result serious illnesses and infertility. A pregnant mother infected with STI can pass the infection on to her unborn baby and the baby can be born with serious problems such as blindness.
In conclusion, Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, as the President indicated in the State of the Nation Address this past Friday, the Department of Health and its partners is in the process of finalising its comprehensive plan detailing our response to STIs and other infections of sexual contact. The details of this comprehensive plan will be made known to the public in due course.
I urge all of us to be vigilant and be on the look out for those unusual discharges and smells so that we can win this battle against STIs and other sexually transmitted infections.