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Tshabalala-Msimang: STI/Condom Week event (09/02/2003)

9th February 2003

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Date: 09/02/2003
Source: Department of Health
Title: Tshabalala-Msimang: STI/Condom Week event


SPEECH BY THE MINISTER OF HEALTH, DR MANTO TSHABALALA-MSIMANG, AT THE SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS/CONDOM WEEK EVENT, Mashishing Soccer Stadium, 9 February 2003

It is a great pleasure and honour to be here with the people of Mpumulanga province.

In many other countries, this week is only known as Condom Week. But here in South Africa, we have extended our campaign and called this a STI/Condom week. It is critical that we intervene against sexually transmitted infections. Apart from the morbidity they cause, including infertility, abortions, ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, prematurity and cervical cancer, there is a significantly greater risk of a person acquiring HIV when s/he has a conventional STI. The presence of a genital ulcer for example increases the risk of acquiring HIV 10 times.

Because of the relationship between sexually-transmitted infections and the spread of HIV, the STI/Condom Week has become one of our most important national focus weeks. It is now one of the cornerstones of our public health campaign to educate and empower South Africans from all walks of life about STIs, their prevention, treatment and the link between STIs and various other health challenges including HIV and AIDS. This year's STI/Condom Week theme - "Just the two of us" - covers the confidentiality aspect of an individual's STI status and relationships among partners.

Apart from the official opening of parliament and an important address from our President, President Thabo Mbeki, there is another thing that is very important which we will be observing next Friday, the 14th of February. That is the Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is an established tradition usually celebrated with an exchange of gifts between two people, and signifying a declaration, proposal, or affirmation of love. The giving of gifts to the one you love is known in many cultures. In the Xhosa culture it is called the practice of ukundanda. This involves the giving of a gift, usually of an item made of beads to be worn on the wrist or pinned by a lover to one returning from initiation. The idea of a gift made of beads given by the man to his women lover also exists in other traditions. In Zulu, the term for this is "ucu".

The main focus of Valentine's Day is relationships and intimacy. As this day falls within STI/Condom week, we want to increase awareness of and understanding of what STIs are and what their symptoms are. We want to encourage people to tell or notify their partners if they have these infections. We want to motivate all of us to seek health advice and treatment - which is available at all government clinics and health centres.

Reaching everyone with messages and interventions such as the treatment of STIs is an ongoing challenge. We have to deal with many factors that put people at risk of contracting STIs including HIV. This includes people often being separated from their families and communities, limited recreational options within our communities, alcohol and substance abuse as well as commercial sex.

Last year as the Department of Health, we launched the "Men In Partnership Against AIDS" which remains a crucial development in our prevention programmes. Within the national Partnership Against AIDS, men are one of the most significant sectors - and one that can make the greatest difference right now. I want to speak to the men that are present here today.

Broadly speaking, men are expected to be physically strong, emotionally robust, daring and virile. Men can and must unite to protect South Africa's women and children from violence, disease and rape. The rape of our women and children must stop! As men, let us protect our mothers, partners, sisters and children from these social ills.

However, we must remember that men are also vulnerable to various health risks too. With the exception of a few countries, men have a shorter life expectancy at birth than women. Stereotypes about manliness expose men to health risk including those related to sexual and alcohol abuse.

Men often delay seeking health care for illnesses, such as STIs, that could be prevented or cured and thereby putting themselves and their partners in danger. Too often they see themselves as untouchable to illness or risk and this is reflected in the under utilisation of health services by men.

I believe that greater attention must be given to the health needs of men, including those infected with STIs. Part of the concern is that men's behaviour put women at risk. In many communities, women are stigmatised for admitting that they have an STI. Because of fear of retribution from either their partners or the communities, some women fail to seek medical help.

In other cases, women would come to public institutions for treatment. They get effective treatment as health workers in more than 80% of our facilities have been trained in syndromic management of STI. These women go home and get re-infected by men who either have not sought treatment or have received often less effective treatment in the private sector. It is therefore critical that we encourage the private health sector to adopt the same approach as the public sector in treating these infections. Or encourage men to utilise public health facilities. You should know that the price is not the best indicator of a good quality service.

This does not mean we have to cut down prevention programmes for women and girls or that we should ignore them. Everyone is at risk of infection irrespective gender, status or sexuality. But you also have a right and a duty to protect yourself and your partner from STIs.

If you suspect that you may have an STI, talk to your partner and visit your nearest clinic. Some obvious symptoms include discomfort when urinating or itching, swelling or burning in the genital area. However, there are some STIs that do not have apparent symptoms. So if you have engaged in unprotected sex - which you should not - or you or your partner has had other sexual partners, it is best to visit your local clinic and get checked.

While this is a national Condom Week event, I want to make sure that all us here understand the government message with regard to prevention of sexually transmitted including HIV as encompassed in our ABC campaign.

We are emphasising that people, especially young people, should delay their sexual debut and abstain from sex for as long as possible. If and when you decide to get involved in a sexual relationship, be faithful to your partner. This is very critical because it reinforces our efforts with regard to moral regeneration. We need to discourage promiscuity and multiple sexual relationships that often push women further into disadvantaged situations.

As government we are cognisant of the fact that there are also people who cannot be able to abstain or be faithful to their partners. We therefore encourage consistent and correct use of a quality condom.

I want to re-emphasise the following important issues that will assist you and your partner to prevent STIs and HIV:
* High quality SABS approved condoms and STI treatment are available free from clinics and other outlets. Government condoms are of excellent quality - and free
* Using a condom protects you and your loved one from STIs and HIV infection;
* Untreated STIs put you and your partner at greater risk of contracting HIV;
* Know what are the symptoms of STIs and notify your partner of any such symptoms. Seek treatment together
* Most STIs can be cured. Treatment is available at most public health centres and medication is free.

What is encouraging is that these messages are getting through to our communities and people making use of the condoms we are providing. We have noted over the past year, that more condoms are being utilised than ever before. This is mainly because of increased awareness and improved distribution system that has been extended to non-conventional outlets including taverns and spaza shops.

While there is still a lot of work to be done, as we can celebrate some successes we have made as a nation. There is a steady decline in the prevalence of syphilis amongst pregnant women attending public health sector clinics. It has actually declined by 50% over the past three years. Our youth are also responding to the messages and they are taking responsibility for their sexual behaviour. This has led to a downward trend in HIV prevalence amongst teenagers attending antenatal clinics over the past three years.

Adding to these successes:
* The Health Department has increased distribution of male condoms to 220 million countrywide over the past financial year;
* 1 million female condoms were distributed to 200 dedicated sites and these sites will be increased to 245 by December 2003
* All condoms are being tested by the SABS to ensure quality control on every batch that is distributed
* We only had less than 1% stock-out rate at the 166 primary distributing sites for male condoms

It is often said that knowledge is power. This is undoubtedly true when it comes to STIs. Knowing how to prevent STIs, including HIV, can undoubtedly save your life. If you build your future on knowledge, I believe that there is hope for the future generation. As government we will continue to provide as much information as we can to enable you and all South Africans to take informed decisions about your life.

There is a government's campaign called Khomanani ( meaning "caring together"), which is part of government's efforts funded to the tune of R90 million. The campaign encourages us to care for our own health, care for the well being of our partners and families, caring for our communities - and ultimately, caring for our country.

After listening to the success stories that people from the district of Ehlanzeni, the municipality of Thaba Chewu and the province of Mpumalanga have shared with us, I would like to conclude by saying keep up the good work.

Special congratulations go to the people of Mashishing and eHlanzeni district for the good work you are doing in responding to STI, HIV and AIDS through programmes targeted at schools, healthcare institutions and the community. For the second year, eHlanzeni was chosen as the district with the best HIV/AIDS and STI programme in the country last year.

We should all learn from the programme that this district has put in place. The introduction of their schools 'child-to-child' programme in the district has already contributed to a decrease of STIs and teenage pregnancies among learners attending the nine health promoting schools in the area.

I have no doubt that these efforts and many others that are driven by ordinary South Africans at many other localities will ultimately result in the reversal of STIs, including HIV infection in this country.

Let's turn the tide against STIs and against HIV and AIDS. Together, we can win.

I thank you.

Source: Department of Health (http://www.doh.gov.za)
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