‘Lis­ten to each other to find so­lu­tions’

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By SUE MACLENNAN

“Peo­ple mustn’t feel judged when they use our ser­vices,” East­ern Cape Health Su­per­in­ten­dent Gen­eral Dr Tho­bile Mben­gashe told a small but en­gaged au­di­ence at the ‘Youth and well­ness’ pub­lic de­bate in BB Zon­dani Com­mu­nity Hall on Wednes­day night.

The event was the sec­ond in the #Thede­bate2019 series – a part­ner­ship be­tween Gro­cott’s Mail, Ra­dio Gra­ham­stown, Rhodes Mu­sic Ra­dio (RMR), Rhodes School of Jour­nal­ism and Me­dia Stud­ies and the Rhodes De­part­ment of Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. This col­lec­tive hosted de­bates in Makana lead­ing up to the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions.

#Thede­bate2019 is a series of six pub­lic events, once a month, that aim to both ed­u­cate vot­ers, as well as air the big na­tional is­sues in the lo­cal space. Th­ese in­clude Land; Ed­u­ca­tion; Econ­omy; Health; Safety and se­cu­rity; Gov­er­nance and IGR. The in­ten­tion is to en­cour­age in­formed par­tic­i­pa­tion by Makana res­i­dents in the 2019 na­tional elec­tion. The de­bates take place in dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity venues across the city and the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Around 66% of Makana’s pop­u­la­tion is youth, with dozens of schools and two ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions be­ing a ma­jor part of the area’s so­cio-eco­nomic make-up. For this rea­son the theme was ‘Youth and well­ness: does pub­lic health work for you?’

On the panel with Mben­gashe were the East­ern Cape De­part­ment of Health’s Makana Sub Dis­trict Man­ager Nikelwa Kanise and Raphael Cen­tre Man­ager Anne Lo­ef­fler.

The event started with play­backs of ac­counts by three young women of hu­mil­i­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ences at lo­cal clin­ics. In one case a nurse told her she was too young for con­tra­cep­tives; in an­other, the nurse in­sin­u­ated she was pro­mis­cu­ous, say­ing, “Oh, so you’re get­ting ready for the fes­tive sea­son?”

While phys­i­cal health was dis­cussed, in par­tic­u­lar the preven­tion and man­age­ment of HIV/AIDS and STIS, what emerged from dis­cus­sions among par­tic­i­pants from the floor and the panel was that para­mount for young peo­ple was their men­tal well-be­ing.

“There need to be things for young peo­ple to do – choirs, sports teams, youth clubs,” said re­searcher Ni­cola Gra­ham. “We talk about choices, but what choices are there if the only way to be a young per­son is to drink and have sex?”

The ques­tion came up again when Gro­cott’s Mail’s own Azlan Makalima spoke about the high-risk “pens-down” (post-exam) ac­tiv­i­ties that many school chil­dren en­gage in at the end of the year.

Was the Health De­part­ment speak­ing to lo­cal gov­ern­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment about al­ter­na­tive ac­tiv­i­ties for teenagers dur­ing the school hol­i­days?

UP­START Youth was well rep­re­sented and Chelsea Moses ar­gued that even where those ac­tiv­i­ties and fa­cil­i­ties ex­ist – “At the Joza Youth Hub there are five or­gan­i­sa­tions young peo­ple can par­tic­i­pate in” – there will still be peo­ple who think there are bet­ter ways to spend their time.

“It’s not that no one is do­ing things for them,” Chelsea said. “I think the so­lu­tion is for us youth to make our own or­gan­i­sa­tions – to lis­ten to each other and find our own so­lu­tions.”

It was a sug­ges­tion that fit­ted well with Lo­ef­fler’s em­pha­sis on so­cial well-be­ing as a pre­cur­sor of phys­i­cal health.

“It’s eas­ier to be­have in ways that will keep you healthy if you have a sense of mean­ing and pur­pose in your life,” she said. “What we are miss­ing in our town is ac­ces­si­ble men­tal health care.”

Kanise spoke from her years of ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic health, and speak­ing about high-risk be­hav­iours, em­pha­sised that young peo­ple should make the right choices.

Mben­gashe elab­o­rated on the theme, say­ing, “Ev­ery young per­son has the right to make a mis­take – but they also have the right to an­other chance of sur­vival.”

He em­pha­sised how im­por­tant Photo: Sue Maclennan

young peo­ple were to the suc­cess of the coun­try’s Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme.

“Youth and de­vel­op­ment are core to the NDP,” Mben­gashe said. “As young peo­ple, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and qual­ity health care are es­sen­tial for you to achieve your best.”

Ad­dress­ing con­cerns about the qual­ity of treat­ment at clin­ics, Mben­gashe em­pha­sised that the pub­lic should ex­pect rea­son­able wait­ing times, clean fa­cil­i­ties and proper treat­ment by staff, among their rights.

“Our biggest chal­lenge is to be re­spon­sive to the le­git­i­mate ex­pec­ta­tions of the com­mu­nity,” Mben­gashe said. Com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives on clinic com­mit­tees were key to mon­i­tor­ing clinic per­for­mance and con­vey­ing com­plaints.

The De­part­ment’s call cen­tre al­lowed for anony­mous com­plaints, as did the Pres­i­den­tail com­plaints line. “If some­one com­plains [from within my ju­ris­dic­tion]via the Pres­i­den­tial hot­line, it comes straight through to me and I have to re­spond,” he said.

He spoke about the NDP goal of an Aids-free gen­er­a­tion by 2021 and said that key to this was the pro­gramme to pre­vent mother-to-child trans­mis­sion. “No child should be born with HIV,” he said.

The de­bate was pre­ceded by a round-ta­ble dis­cus­sion among lo­cal NGOS who work with young peo­ple and the SG.

The next in #Thede­bate2019 series is on 21 Novem­ber in No­luthando Hall and the topic is safety and se­cu­rity.

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