oa South African Health Review - Youth health : chapter 20

Volume 2000, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1025-1715



The world today is experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of young people. One in every five persons in the world is a young person. In South Africa, there are currently about 18 million people under the age of 20 years. These young people account for approximately 44% of the total population. Young people are at risk of a broad range of health problems. Sexual and reproductive health behaviours are among the main causes of death, disability, and disease amongst young people; among these health problems are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV/ AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and pregnancy-related complications. In the past few years, the spread of HIV infection among South Africa's youth has been daunting. Between 1997 and 1998 alone HIV infection rates amongst young people almost doubled. Although fertility is declining amongst all age groups, one third of all teenagers have been pregnant or had a child by the age of nineteen years. Young people are also at risk of physical and psychological trauma resulting from sexual abuse, gender-based violence, and other forms of physical violence and accidents. Policies and programmes have been developed to address the problems and challenges facing the youth in South Africa. The rapid spread of the HIV epidemic especially amongst adolescents has also meant that programmes have had to focus their attentions on interventions that aim to raise awareness and influence positive behaviour change among adolescents. Such interventions include media campaigns, lifeskills, and peer education. These interventions need to be supported by services that are both accessible and acceptable to adolescents. The National Adolescent Friendly Clinic Initiative (NAFCI) and the Y-Centre model are some examples of how services are being made more accessible and acceptable to adolescents. This chapter aims to bring together information from a wide range of sources to provide a picture about the health status of young people in South Africa. The major health problems and needs of young people are highlighted. The chapter also gives a summary of national policies and programmes for young people in South Africa. Although an attempt has been made to identify the main programmes and key stakeholders in the provision of health care to young people, inadvertently some omissions will have been made. Some recommendations are made for future research and action.

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