Cullinan - Whilst acknowledging that the subject of sex makes some parents uncomfortable, President Jacob Zuma says parents need to face the reality that some learners are sexually active.
"No matter how much this knowledge troubles us as parents, it is a fact that our young people are at risk of contracting HIV infection. Equipping girls and boys with information on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies can thus play an important role in ensuring that all learners reach their full potential," Zuma said.
He was speaking on Thursday at the official launch of an Integrated School Health Programme, which aims to ensure that there is a strong school health service operating according to clear standards across the country.
The programme forms part of the National Health Insurance (NHI) programme, which is in line with the World Health Organisation's call for universal health coverage around the world regardless of people's economic status.
Pretoria is one of the 10 districts in which government is piloting the NHI system. As part of initiating the NHI, government will work through three pillars, including schools, municipal wards and in districts. The Integrated School Health Programme falls under the first pillar - health care in schools.
In promoting child and youth health, government, through the programme, seeks to correct a few shortcomings and problems; amongst them being high teenage pregnancies. Zuma said teenage pregnancies indicated a shortcoming in youth education.
Through the programme, information on sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as HIV and Aids will also be introduced in schools.
Zuma highlighted that about three quarters of learners who become pregnant leave school at the time of the pregnancy, and only between a third and a half of them return to school to complete their education.
Figures from the 2010 Antenatal HIV Prevalence Survey showed that more than a fifth of pregnant young women between 15 and 24 years of age were HIV infected, as were 9.4% of girls who were pregnant.
"It is almost always the girl child who has to deal with the stigma and other negative consequences of the pregnancy. Equipping girls and boys with information on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies can thus play an important role in ensuring that all learners reach their full potential," said the President.
"... We have an obligation both to educate our learners on how to prevent HIV infection and also to ensure that those who are infected are identified and receive the treatment, care and support which they require. It is a painful reality of the times we live in," Zuma noted.
He assured that the package of sexual and reproductive health services would be provided by a professional nurse in a one-on-one private and confidential consultation, adding that government was making the service available to the learners when needed, with the support of parents.
He further explained that these services will be made available after consultation with the school community led by the school governing body and urged parents and communities to give the intervention a chance.