As a former loveLife GroundBreaker I felt it was important to attend the launch of the HIV Prevention Gauge 2009 which took place on 2 November 2009 in Johannesburg. Written by the former loveLife CEO David Harrison and Ruth Scott, HIV Prevention Gauge 2009 is a unique book that brings together all published information about the current state of the HIV epidemic in South Africa.
"The HIV Prevention Gauge of 2009 shows that progress has been made in combating HIV, but that we still don’t invest enough in a fully-fledged national portfolio of programmes to prevent it. Given the limitations of current knowledge about what really works, we won’t be able to stop all new infections. But we can probably stop half of them. That’s 250,000 new infections averted every year”, says loveLife CEO Grace Matlhape in a press release issued by the organisation.
Browsing through the book I was taken back to 2005 when I was still a GroundBreaker. Back then loveLife was new to me and my community: we had seen television adverts but we did not really understand what it was about. Mzozi Mthembu, a loveLife regional campaign leader, explained that loveLife is a campaign that aims at reducing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections amongst young people and also promotes a healthy lifestyle. I built my own understanding of the ‘Get Attitude’ Campaign that we were promoting at that time. loveLife targeted young people from the ages 12-17 years as this age group formed a bigger slice of the population pie. The loveLife campaign brought to our attention that over 80 percent of those in this age group were HIV negative.
loveLife created the opportunity for young people to assist other young people and to express their concerns. I personally thought it was an amazing idea; as a young person, I knew it was easier to relate and speak to another young person about issues related to sex and sexuality. A loveLife programme called ‘Body Y’s’ covered sexuality. The programme tackled issues such as understanding our bodies and learning to accept ourselves.
loveLife’s programmes tackled and eliminated myths, and gave clarity about HIV. It supported young people by helping clinics to become youth friendly environments and also establishing school sites. This strategy got young people together at clinics and schools where they would be GroundBreakers - ready to help others and refer them to other places they could get advice and information. Youth Centres gathered young people for extra mural activities, with the aim of keeping them away from drug abuse, engaging in sex and abusing alcohol. Youth Centres include a youth clinic, computer learning centre, and facilitated loveLife programmes. The annual loveLife games were a highlight for me - we used to call them ‘sophisticated fun’ because we had fun while learning the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Those were great times!
Now back to the book.
HIV Prevention Gauge 2009 is based on both national and local studies. It describes the state of the HIV epidemic, reviews the national response and makes recommendations for policy and planning. The book notes that there are now far fewer infections among teenagers and young adults, but that the significant expansion of anti-retroviral treatment means that the overall prevalence will not decline for the next five years at least - even if we halve the rate of new infections. For this reason, we need to use a much sharper measurement of progress than we did in the past.
The book identifies the ten top strategies for new gains in HIV prevention:
1. Increase the supply of male and female condoms significantly
2. Eliminate missed opportunities for PMTCT and refocus on protecting the health of pregnant women
3. Scale up focused behaviour change programmes to achieve high levels of inter-personal coverage
4. Focus on reducing risk tolerance
5. Focus on reducing teen pregnancy and protecting pregnant teenagers
6. Introduce routine testing in all public health facilities
7. Institute a high-vigilance protocol for TB detection among people with HIV
8. Introduce a package deal for people presenting with STIs
9. Implement an intensive national quality improvement programme
10. Initiate a male circumcision programme
I find this book very interesting because it takes us on the journey that HIV activists have travelled and outlines the challenges that lie ahead. Commenting on the launch, Trina DasGupta, loveLife’s Media Director says, “I found the launch very interesting because it looks back to the 10 years of Lovelife. I also think [the book] is a great tool to look at when one needs information about PMCT and other areas that require attention.”
The HIV Prevention Gauge will be published annually. It really is a great resource!
For more information go to www.lovelife.org.za.
- Nhlanhla Kunene, Programme Assistant: SANGOTeCH.