UKZN’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recently hosted a mini-symposium on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Teenagers as part of the national Women’s Month celebrations.

The event attracted healthcare practitioners, representatives from NGOs and the KwaZulu-Natal departments of Health and Education as well as researchers.

The symposium heard that there is a high incidence of teenage pregnancies in South Africa and that about 19 percent were repeat pregnancies within those (teenage) years.

Dr Sibonisile Zibane, a social worker from the School of Applied Human Sciences, spoke on how teenage boys and girls negotiated their sexuality, particularly in a township context. She said there are informal sexual cultures in high school which result in risky sexual behaviours and abuse as well as subsequent pregnancies.

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim from the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), who is one of the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers, confirmed the high incidence of teenage pregnancies in South Africa and highlighted that HIV incidence was disproportionality higher among teenage girls and young women compared to their male counterparts. Abdool Karim, who was recently appointed as the UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV, said research had shown that this trend appeared to be driven by young girls engaging in sexual relations with older men.

The forum concluded that options to prevent both unwanted pregnancies, STIs and importantly; HIV needed to be reinforced and research in the field should be intensified. Further, there was commitment from the various stakeholders to engage more deliberately with each other in trying to understand and address issues of sexuality and reproductive health among teenagers, including “sexuality messaging” at school level.

Words: Lihle Sosibo