Lovelife on HIV/AIDS: briefing

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Health

12 August 2002
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HEALTH PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 August 2002
LOVELIFE ON HIV/AIDS: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr. Ngculu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Behaviour Change: Cornerstone of HIV Prevention
Lovelife's for Us: A Survey of SA Youth 2001
Positive Lifestyle Issue

SUMMARY
Committee was informed that South Africa is experiencing a generalised form of HIV/AIDS prevalence and that Lovelife is an example of a national HIV prevention programme. The Committee heard that Lovelife's design responded to the sexual behaviour of teenagers driving the epidemic in South Africa. The Committee was informed that the best prospect for changing the course of the HIV epidemic is substantially reducing new infection rates among 12- 17 year olds. This was the clear mandate of Lovelife.

MINUTES
Briefing by Mr. David Harrison CEO LoveLife
Mr. Harrison stated that evidence that HIV prevention stemmed largely from cost-effective interventions implemented in countries with concentrated epidemics, or within high-risk populations in countries with generalised HIV epidemics. The compelling question for countries experiencing a generalised epidemic is namely what constitutes an effective national HIV/AIDS prevention programme?

Lovelife is an example of a national HIV prevention program implemented in a country experiencing a generalised epidemic. He contended that to a large extent, the political economy in which Lovelife operated is conducive to its success and that therefore it served as an important case study for HIV prevention.

Lovelife's design responded to the fact that the sexual behaviour of teenagers drives the epidemic in South Africa. He explained that this assertion is based on the large proportion of the South African population that are under the age of 20 years (40%), a significant number of whom report high risk sexual behaviour.

Mr. Harrison submitted that the best prospect for changing the course of the HIV epidemic is in substantially reducing new infection rates among successive cohorts of 12- 17 year olds. Major predictors of high-risk sexual behaviour in this age group are coercion, peer pressure, transactional sex and abdication of sexual responsibility by boys. He argued, therefore, that the major change is not knowledge of the HIV transmission, but widespread failure of individuals to internalise personal risk

It was in view of the foregoing factors that it became critical to establish a programme which attracted young people and with which they wanted to identify and talk about. He added that this was in recognition of the major influence that global youth culture of music, fashion, pop icons and commercial brands have had on the post-liberation South African youth. This then, he noted, led to the positioning of Lovelife as an inspirational lifestyle brand for young South Africans.

The underpinning of the design construct of Lovelife is a view that motivating young people to change sexual behaviour requires active experience of an alternative and positive lifestyle. This was in addition to making sure that institutions responsive to growing demands from young people for friendly and appropriate health and social services were accessible.

Lovelife combined high-powered media with service delivery, institutional support and outreach to create a comprehensive national campaign aimed at halving the incidence of HIV infection among the 15-20 year olds by the year 2007. This target is concomitant with the effort of substantially reducing pregnancy and STI rates among teenagers.

Mr. Harrison said that by end of year two, young people who had been exposed to Lovelife were reporting significant behavioural change. At the very least, these findings indicate a growing association by young people with positive lifestyles and responsive numbers of young people to personalise and internalise the risk of HIV and teenage pregnancy.

This behavioural change was the first real evidence in South Africa that suggested change is possible among the young people and that this is potentially on a scale that could effectively change the course of the HIV epidemic.

Discussion
Ms Dudley asked for an elaboration on how children changed their behaviour in this case given that there were many forms of behavioural change.

Mr. Harrison replied that it was too early in the research findings to tell what manner of behavioural change the young people assume. He however pointed out that there was a decline in peer pressure to engage in sex.

Ms Dudley (ACDP) wondered whether the message to the young people to use condoms might not be interpreted by those who do not engage in sexual activities as a license to so engage.

Mr. Harrison said that their outreach message is specifically targeted to those who are already engaging in these activities and that it does not seek to encourage people to engage in sexual activity by use of any form of sexuality. He added that Lovelife's mission was only to highlight to the young people the risk attendant to early sexuality.

Ms Baloyi (ANC) noted that Mr. Harrison had not addressed the issue of funding and asked where the budget for Lovelife comes from

Mr. Harrison replied that Lovelife is funded by the exchequer to the tune of R200 million per annum out of which 35% goes to the media ads, 65% to services and 10% to research.

Ms Baloyi (ANC) asked how, if at all, Lovelife networks with departments, churches and traditional leaders.

Mr. Harrison replied that his organisation partners with the parent department - that is Health, the department of education and that of Sports and Recreation to roll out its programs to the youth. He added that churches were very much involved in the program but that Lovelife was planning to reach out to districts where they would interact with traditional leaders but that this exercise would cost another R60 million.

Ms Baloyi (ANC) asked whether Lovelife plans to rollout its programs to the deep rural areas.

Mr. Harrison replied that Lovelife is getting to the rural areas through its planned district programs that are currently in the pipeline.

Ms Mathibela (ANC) inquired whether there was any HIV prevalence statistics on white teenagers

Mr. Harrison replied in the negative. He explained that there was a problem of under-representation among the white population in HIV studies but pointed out that there was a prevalent rate, which was still uncertain at this stage.

Dr. Jassat (ANC) expressed reservation regarding the 10% budgetary allocation that is reserved for research noting that research activities should spread over to the sub-Saharan region to get a comparative picture on the prevalent rates.

Mr. Harrison said that it is common knowledge that the situation in sub-Saharan is consistently bad. He pointed out that research that was undertaken in Uganda and Senegal was patchy in a sense that it was carried out on the high-risk behavioural groups. He contended that these results would not assist his organisation which is focused generally on a low risk behavioural group.

Mr. Harrison explained that the Ugandan situation has been misinterpreted since low prevalence rates in actual sense began before these interventions were undertaken and that therefore the correct interpretation is that there was reduction in the number of people that were exposed to infection.

Ms Dudley said that the Department had informed the committee that a new NGO was to be formed within the department to handle HIV issues and a sum of R157 million had been set aside for this purpose. She then asked whether Lovelife was the promised NGO.

Mr. Harrison said that he was unaware of this development and that, therefore, he was not in a position to comment on the issue.

The Chair stepped in to clarify that the Department said that a new unit headed by a person of the level of a director would be created to specifically co-ordinate HIV/AIDS NGO activities and that a sum of R 157 million had been set aside for this purpose. He added that this unit is to cover all NGOs and not only Lovelife.
He said that the interaction with Lovelife would be carried forward in the future.

Meeting adjourned.

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