The Sunday News
Walter Mswazie in Zaka
HEALTH experts have raised concerns over the increasing number of child marriages and school drop-outs as a result of early pregnancy in Zaka District in Masvingo amid reports that an average of 100 girls prematurely leave school per year in the district.
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a National Aids Council (Nac) Masvingo provincial tour at Mutimwi Secondary School last week, District Aids Co-ordinator Mrs Annastancia Zendakwaye said it was disturbing to note that many young girls in the district were engaging in sex and early marriages.
She said efforts were being made to address the issue as that fuelled incidents of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). She said STIs have proven to be the conduit to HIV contraction.
“We are worried by the incidents of early marriages and school drop-outs as a result of teenage pregnancy,” said Mrs Zendakwaye.
“Imagine we record an average of 104 female pupils who drop out of school every year because they have fallen pregnant. The ages range from 15 to 17 and as Nac that is cause for grave concern.”
She said in a bid to address such challenges, Nac with the assistance of the Global Fund, has piloted a new delivery model in the district.
“In an effort to address the issue of teenage pregnancy, self-efficacy of HIV programme among young girls, we have come up with a pilot approach called Sista to Sista Programme. Under this programme we have 15 schools here in Zaka and 75 learners who are taken through lifelong lessons of HIV and how they can delay sexual debut. We have 10 mentors who teach about 25 female learners each.”
She said the programme was doing well as it has since received a buy-in from the community and schools.
She said the mentors were selected from the community and get support from female teachers at respective schools.
“The mentors were selected from Mutimwi Primary and Secondary and are of good social standing as we want them to be the role models of the pupils they lead. Here we also got support from the local leadership that include the village head and chief. The whole aim of this programme is to close a tap on school drop-outs as a result of early and unwanted pregnancy.”
Nac spokesperson Mrs Tadiwa Pfupa-Nyatanga said the programme was designed to address challenges affecting young girls of school going ages on issues to do with sexual reproductive health issues.
“We have come up with this programme to address the gaps on HIV information among young girls at school. The children are given a mentor who takes them through critical areas of life including their sexuality and how they can remain HIV-negative. They are taught about their bodies so that they know sensitive parts which should not be touched by men. We have launched this programme in Masvingo rural, Gutu, Bikita, Chivi and Zaka Districts. We are already witnessing behaviour change and our mentors are overwhelmed,” said Mrs Pfupa-Nyatanga.