By Babongile Gwebu
Lindiwe Banda (23) says the advent of social media has worsened stigma and discrimination on issues related to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV). Lindiwe says young people now hesitate to seek sexual and reproductive health services fearing that their cases will be exposed on social media platforms.
“Many officials from health institutions, especially public service providers are no longer professional. They do not respect confidentiality. Some officials may even take pictures of service seekers and publish them without consent. Young people are now scared of going to public institutions because of that,” says Lindiwe.
Lindiwe says some young people were developing medical complications as a result of not getting medical help. Besides the fear of being exposed on social media, young people were also afraid of being judged by officials at health institutions.
“Some health workers do not respect young people at all. They ask offending questions like ‘Why are you engaging in sex when you are not married? Why did you not use a condom?’ People do not get STIs on purpose. Most of the young people get these infections after being forced into sexual acts by older men but no one questions that. It is always the fault of the young people, especially the girls,” says Lindiwe.
Lindiwe says at times the nurses or doctors call their friends during consultations and they may even laugh or get amused at these situations. They then record and share these incidencies on social media platforms. After such embarrassing encounters, Lindiwe says the affected young people will avoid hospitals. She says the most affected are those coming from poor families.
“Those who have money do not go to public hospitals. They go to private clinics where they get friendly treatment,” says Lindiwe.
Kershia Mvundura (35), the Programme Officer at the Creative Centre for Communication and Development says stigma and discrimination attached to seeking sexual and reproductive health and rights services is something that will take a long time to dispel and it is important to support young women and girls so that they do not back off from seeking for services. She says social media is a vehicle for perpetuating stigma but can also be used to fight stigma.
“Young people should be equipped with skills and information so that they are assertive. They need to know that sexual and reproductive health is critical and that they should not be scared of unprofessional service providers,” says Kershia.
Kershia says her organisation was using the WhatsApp platform to engage young women and girls and encourage them to seek sexual and reproductive health services all the time to avoid health complications.