What do South African adolescents want in a sexual health service? Evidence from the South African Studies on HIV in Adolescents (SASHA) project

S Afr Med J. 2018 Jul 25;108(8):677-681. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2018.v108i8.13013.


Background: Young people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are disproportionately affected by HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. The provision of accessible sexual and reproductive health services (SRHS) for young people in SSA is vital to reduce this burden.

Objectives: To examine the needs of South African (SA) adolescents with regard to differentiated, accessible and adolescent-responsive SRHS.

Methods: Data were drawn from a larger project examining the feasibility of conducting HIV vaccine trials in adolescents. Fifteen focus group discussions were conducted across five research sites in four SA provinces with 120 male and female adolescent human papillomavirus vaccine trial participants aged 12 - 19 years from low-income areas with a high incidence of HIV. Transcribed data were double-coded using framework analysis.

Results: Three main themes emerged on how best to improve SRHS for adolescents in resource-limited settings: adolescent-friendly services, availability of developmentally appropriate and tailored information, and improved relationships between healthcare workers and clinic attendees. Participants wanted more flexible opening hours at SRHS to account for travel time to clinics from school and home. They suggested that services include contraception, counselling, educational materials, links to adoption services, emergency vehicles, pre- and postnatal care, and improved service quality from clinic staff.

Conclusions: While dedicated adolescent SRHS might best meet the needs of young people in SA, the study suggests that failing this, existing SRHS should be more responsive to adolescent use. Innovations such as mobile outreach services, self-testing and flexible hours will help SRHS respond to adolescents' needs.