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Supporting young women on campus

Representatives of some of the partners in the campus initiative got together recently for a kick-off meeting.

South Africa has 25 universities and 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges (FETs) with close to 427 campuses and a student population of around 1.5 million. Campuses are where young people, enjoying freedoms not available at school, learn, grow and discover who they are – sexually as well as emotionally. The risky behaviours associated with student life like drinking, drug-taking and casual sex make students more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. But there are other factors putting students, particularly female students, at risk such as high rates of sexual violence and mental health issues.

One component of the Adolescent Girls and Young Women Programme, funded by the Global Fund, uses a peer-to-peer social mobilisation and education model to reach young women on campuses and help them to take charge of their health and wellbeing. Working with Higher Health – a national organisation that supports health and wellness on campus – NACOSA and the other principal recipients are bringing full-time Peer Group Trainers to TVET and Higher Education campuses across the country.

The Peer Group Trainers will become a familiar face on campus and known as a supportive place to go with any health and wellness issues. The Trainers will help young women to complete a self-assessment form as part of an individual risk screening conversation and will also offer them an HIV test, male and female condoms and TB, sexually transmitted infection and gender based violence screening and education. Each Peer will be a trained counsellor and will offer routine counselling, screening and HIV and pregnancy testing services to young women on campus. Based on their assessment, young women will be referred to a range of other services and supported to successfully access these services.

Peers employed by Higher Health will be trained in HIV Testing Services (HTS) so that they are able to conduct an HIV test for any student who asks for it. HIV Self Screening (HIVSS), provided through NACOSA, will only be offered in conjunction with pre-counselling from Peer Group Trainers to ensure students are properly supported psychologically during the testing process.

The programme will link young women to appropriate mental health and sexual and reproductive health services including contraception, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP). Young women will be able to access these services in roving clinics, in clinics on campus or at the nearest off-site government health facility. Young people will also be recruited to attend ART adherence and gender based violence survivor clubs.

Because some young women may not want to discuss their sexual health with a peer, 36 vending machines will be stocked with pregnancy tests and condoms and lubricant. This approach will be piloted to see how successful it is in increasing access to these vital products.

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