The North West Province in South Africa is home to over five hundred thousand (500 000) people living with HIV. Statistics show that Bojanala, Ngaka Modiri Molema and Dr Kenneth Kaunda are the districts with the greatest HIV burden in the province. While HIV prevalence among youth aged 15-24 has remained stable over time, structural gender inequalities, discrimination, violence against women and girls, and unequal gender norms continue to undermine efforts by women and girls to access HIV services and prevent HIV infections. In North West alone, the HIV epidemic remains predominantly feminized with the prevalence level at 25,5% among women of sexual reproductive age as compared to 14,5% among their male counterparts.
The Department of Social Development is mandated by the National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and AIDS to implement social and behavioural change programmes to address the key drivers of HIV and support economic strengthening programmes that focus on youth, amongst other objectives.
It is against this backdrop, that an NGO driven by passionate belief in accountability and innovation in HIV prevention services, Shout-It-Now, signed a memorandum of understanding with the North West Department of Social Development on Friday, 13th August 2021 in Brits, North West.
Speaking at the media launch on behalf of the North West Department of Social Development’s MEC, Chief Director, Ms Hessie Wiessie, said the department welcomes the partnership and said that it would go a long way in changing the behaviour and mindset of many of the targeted audience. “We appreciate the sterling work that Shout-It-Now has done in our district municipality by sharing vital information with our young girls including those that are still in the adolescent stage. We are confident that our joint programmes as government and Shout-It-Now will further reduce HIV infections among young people, including teenagers,” she said.
Ms Wiessie said the blesser phenomenon had become one of the greatest challenges that confronted South Africa today, as older men continue to attract young girls with money and expensive gifts in return for unprotected sex. She remarked: Our backgrounds have a bearing on the prevalence of gender-based violence where women are regarded as mere commodities and entities to serve the egos and needs of men. I want to thank head of department Relebohile Mofokane and the CEO of Shout-It-Now, for working together to seal this partnership which I think will grow in leaps and bounds and yield dividends in a very short space of time.”
To achieve some of the objectives as outlined by Ms Wiessie, Shout-It-Now CEO, Adrian Van Stolk, said the organisation is supported by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to implement their DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) programme. The DREAMS programme has four main goals to help end South Africas HIV/AIDS epidemic including to empower adolescent girls and young women and reduce their risk for HIV infection, to reduce the HIV risk of male sex partners, to support and strengthen families and to mobilize communities for change that further protects its vulnerable citizens. “To achieve these aims, Shout-It-Now partnered with the Department of Health to directly provide community-based HIV testing, PrEP & PEP (also known as the HIV prevention pills), STI screening and treatment, contraception, and post-violence support for survivors of gender-based violence. Additionally, we have sub-contracted our colleagues at Community Media Trust (also known as Siyayinqoba) to implement seven behavioural interventions that support healthy lifestyles and change harmful norms. These take place in schools and community settings,” Mr. Van Stolk said.
Shout-it-Now has provided HIV testing to nearly 28,000 individuals, initiated just over 9,000 on PrEP, supported nearly a thousand survivors of gender-based violence and engaged 54,000 adolescent girls and young women and their community members in a range of behavioural interventions in North West alone, since last year. “Of course, Shout-It-Now doesnt deliver these services in a vacuum, and that is why todays announcement of our collaboration and partnership with the DSD is so important and so exciting. Adolescent girls and young women, who are among the most vulnerable to HIV infection, need more than just sexual and reproductive health services. To fully support and protect these youth, we must engage their whole selves by assessing all their needs and providing a one-stop-shop for services that can protect their health and ensure they reach their full potential,” Mr. Van Stolk said.
To date, Shout has partnered with 15 youth-serving community-based organisations in Bojanala, 11 in Ngaka Modiri Molema and 19 in Dr Kenneth Kaunda, and is in talks with many more organizations offering such critical complementary services such as education support, economic strengthening, job training and placements, nutrition and fitness, GBV support and more.
In conveying a message of endorsement to the initiative, Manager in the office of the Executive Mayor in Madibeng Local Municipality, Papi Ratele, said the municipality was excited about the milestone. “As the municipality we pledge our support to this partnership and say that we are behind you one hundred percent. Let us work together and give support to our girl child and see to it that we produce the best future leaders. The HIV pandemic is very rife in Bojanala district and that is because of the mining communities, however it is up to us to denounce this thing of blessers and people who are taking advantage of our daughters and poor communities. We give our full support to this partnership,” Ralete concluded.