AS government continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions, health institutions in Masvingo urban and Chiredzi district have started witnessing a surge in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) amongst young girls aged between 13 and 24, HealthTimes can reveal.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Masvingo
The increase in new STI infections according to the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC), has been driven largely by travel and tight lockdown restrictions which characterized the initial stages of the lockdown period, a period where access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services was disrupted.
In an interview on the sidelines of a Media Tour on Assessing the IMPACT OF COVID 19 ON ACCESS TO SRH BY YOUNG PEOPLE in Masvingo Province , Sister in Charge, ZNFPC Masvingo, Sister Vongai Mushoho told this publication that majority of cases were recorded from July to date as most young people are now able to visit the clinic for assistance.
Most of our clients who were coming in the past few months after the easing of the lockdown had STIs and one of my clients was also pregnant with a married man during the period because she failed to access services due to the tight restrictions. In terms of STI infections, in April we recorded Zero cases because there was little or no movement due to the lockdown.
“In May we recorded one case, June one again, in July we recorded four STI cases and another four in August. In September, we recorded seven STI and this indicates that we could record more cases in the coming months since restrictions have now been eased and people can now visit visit health institutions more. We also had three pregnancy tests during the month of August a sign that the young girls were having unprotected sex during the lockdown,” said Sister Mushosho.
The ZNFPC also conducted a pap smear procedure to screen for cervical cancer. Due to the travel restrictions, and because colleges were closed, organizations like My Age would refer clients to ZNFPC and majority of these required STI treatment.
“Most of the young people who were refereed by My Age would come to my inbox telling their problems and those that needed help at the clinic, I would ask them to come and meet me at the clinic. During period, we noticed that COVID-19 was a new thing to everyone including is the nursing staff, were afraid of catching the virus, the clients were also scared too. I remember when we were first told about COVID-19, we were told that we were going to close the clinic. Most of our referral cases for youths come from colleges and tertiary institutions that are around us.
“Some who were unfortunate were turned away at the roadblocks and could not access our services. There is one case where one young lady came in January for HIV testing and counseling and needed a repeat test after her window period, when she came back after the lockdown restrictions, she was now HIV positive. As for me I blame the COVID-19.”
The ZNFPC clinic was closed for two to three weeks only to be reopened with minimum Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the staff to be able to service clients.
“Because of the road blocks that were there in the first two weeks, we have very few clients that came in. With the easing off of the restrictions, we have seen the client flow improving,” said Sister Mushosho.
In Chiredzi, young girls as young as 15 are amongst those visiting healthcare centers in particular the ZNFPC Tsovani Youth Centre seeking STI treatment. Speaking to this publication, Tsovani Youth Centre Youth Facilitator, Mrs Lindiwe Ndoda said younger girls within the age range of 14 and 24 were coming through for STI treatment and the numbers have increased during the lockdown period.
“During the lockdown, young people could not access services from the centre because of the restrictions of movement. However, there were young people who came to my inbox who were infected with STI and I managed to refer them to the hospital where they managed to get assistance from the local clinics and well as the health centre.
“During this era it shows that young people were actually engaging in sex. They have remained active and from the mobile clinics that we conducted, we managed to treat six clients who reported that they had STI and the 20 to 24-year-old were the most affected. We had four 20 to 24 years and two 15 to 19-year olds who came for STI treatment here,” said Ndoda.
According to the National AIDS Council (NAC) statistics, Chiredzi has the highest STI prevalence in Masvingo province and in 2018, a total 800 STIs were recorded in women and young girls in Chiredzi district. Masvingo province has a 12% HIV/Aids Prevalence Rate and an average of 12 people out of 100 are living with HIV/Aids. In Chiredzi, the re-opening of Chigarapasi beer has led to a spike in HIV and STI infections.
Meanwhile, ZNFPC Provincial Manager for Masvingo, Mr Peter Vhoko commended Plan International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) for assisting the organization in managing SRH particularly focusing on adolescents and young people.
“Through Plan International, we were able to do mobile clinics where we reached 11 people who were inserted Jadelle and I am juts talking about young people and three removals during the lockdown period. We also injected Depo provera to 18 young people, Combined Oral Contraceptives (COC) 43, we provided 43 and progesterone only pill, we provided 12, Implanon four, Intrauterine device (IUCD) we managed one removal
“We distributed 9000 Male condoms just rough the mobile clinics and 220 female condoms. On HIV and AIDS, we tested 212 young people and out of the 121, 116 were negative and five were positive and of those who were positive, we managed to refer them for further services. Through these mobile clinics again, we managed to treat 17 females of STIs and two males,” said Mr Vhoko.