Time for another PEP Talk

Date: January 1, 1970
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NGOs involved in the Pep Talk campaign will be calling for the treatment clause to be reinstated in its entirety in the Sexual Offences Bill as part of awareness activities taking place at Constitutional Hill this week.

This press release is part of the Sexual Offences Bill Awareness (SOBA) week that is being launched at Constitutional Hill on Women¡¦s Day 9 August. Gender Links and NISAA will be hosting a discussion on PEP and the bill on Wednesday 11 August from 12.00-13.00 at Constitutional Hill.

Johannesburg, 9 August 2004: NGOs involved in the Pep Talk campaign will be calling for the treatment clause to be reinstated in its entirety in the Sexual Offences Bill as part of awareness activities taking place at Constitutional Hill this week.

The Sexual Offences Bill Awareness Week kicks off on Women¡¦s Day with a high profile event at Constitutional Hill at which the Minister of Justice will be present. A consortium of NGOs will be hosting panel discussions and debates on various aspects of the bill that has been in the making since 1996 from Monday through Friday. The activities are a curtain raiser to campaigns that will gain momentum during the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence from 25 November to 10 December.

GL and NISAA, partners in the Red and White Ribbon and Pep Talk campaigns, will again be calling attention to the need for adequate state protection for women who are exposed to possible HIV/AIDS infection as a result of sexual assault.

Despite a concerted campaign and promises by the government, these provisions remains uncertain, as the treatment clause that was dropped, then reinstated in modified form, has been sent back to the Ministry of Health for redrafting.

NGOs involved in the Pep Talk campaign maintain that given the reluctance of the health ministry to deal with this and other issues relating to the roll out of anti retroviral drugs, vigilance is necessary. ¡§We will use this awareness week to remind all concerned that we are keeping a close watch on the treatment clause,¡¨ said GL executive director Colleen Lowe Morna.

The brief background to this matter is as follows:

In late 2003, the Department of Justice claimed that the treatment clause had been removed because it had not been properly budgeted for. But in February the Justice Portfolio Committee relented under pressure from NGOs who argued that it is unfair to retain legislative provisions for the treatment of perpetrators as part of the justice system¡¦s rehabilitative focus while removing references to treatment for survivors on grounds that this has not been costed. The NGOs also presented evidence that PEP is not readily available in the vast majority of health facilities (see attached fact sheet).

However, ANC MP and Chairperson of the Justice Portfolio Committee Johnny de Lange (now Deputy Minister of Justice) said the service would only be available at ¡§designated sites¡¨ – those clinics where anti-retrovirals are already being supplied. He said that as the state¡¦s capacity to provide anti-retrovirals increases, so will the treatment for rape victims.

In a statement, the 25 NGOs involved in the campaign, coordinated by Gender Links, said that: ¡§there is no justification for any health facility not to provide Post Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP. This treatment, the common antidote to injuries that might expose health workers to HIV, is readily available in health facilities. It is simply not being consistently offered to survivors of sexual offences because of the general reluctance that has been shown by the government to rolling out anti-retroviral drugs.¡¨

The statement added that it is ¡§inconsistent for the Sexual Offences Bill to guarantee a full package of treatment to perpetrators, and then take a gradual approach to providing treatment for survivors of sexual assault, especially where they now literally face a death threat as a result of HIV/AIDS. There can be no question about the Constitutional obligations of the state in such circumstances.¡¨

The NGOs emphasised that PEP should form part of a comprehensive package of treatment for survivors of sexual offences that includes trauma counselling, treatment for possible STD¡¦s and the possibility of pregnancy: ¡§It is not clear from the statements made by the Chairperson of the Justice Portfolio Committee that the need for a holistic approach to treating survivors of sexual offences has been fully grasped.¡¨

(For more information call Colleen on 082-651-6995 or Mothibi on 072-493-0781)


Gender violence and HIV/AIDS

Coercive sex can cause injuries and bleeding that can lead to a higher risk of HIV infection for women. Typically this type of sex, including rape, takes place without the use of condoms, and women are unable to negotiate condom usage in these encounters.

What is PEP?

  • PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) is a course of anti-retroviral drugs that may stop you from getting HIV/AIDS after a sexual assault.
  • When you first report the rape or assault, you will be asked to undergo an HIV test with your informed consent and with counseling.
  • If the result is negative, you will be given a course of PEP.
  • These drugs must be taken within 72 hours (about three days) after the rape. The full course lasts for 28 days.
  • You should have further tests three and six months after the sexual assault.

Pep on the ground

During the 2003 Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence NGOs involved in the PEP Talk Campaign conducted spot checks on hospitals and clinics in seven provinces to see if they were providing PEP, a provision that currently exists in policy but not in law.

Among key findings of the research are:
ć PEP was only available in 43 percent of the institutions visited. Only 15 percent of clinics visited administered the service. This is especially worrying given the quick reaction time required (the first dose must be taken within 72 hours or sooner) and the fact that for many women clinics are likely to be the most accessible facility.
ć The level of public awareness on PEP is extremely low. One consequence of this is that in a number of instances by the time survivors get to the health facility, it is too late to administer PEP.
ć There has been no government-led public awareness campaign on PEP. All available public education materials have been developed by NGOs.
ć Many health professionals interviewed were aware of PEP as an antidote to needle stick injuries that could expose health workers to HIV, but not its application in relation to sexual assault.
ć 56 percent of institutions visited are still requiring that clients have police docket numbers before they administer the service.
ć Many clinics are not able to give the rapid HIV/AIDS test. This test is essential because if clients are already HIV positive then they should not take the PEP treatment. There are inconsistencies in the availability and quality of counselling services available.
ć Follow up is weak. A high proportion of eligible clients appear not to complete the full 28- day course, many citing transport costs as a major barrier. The high level of uncertainty at the health facilities visited as to whether clients complete the course or not points to poor records and research on follow through.
ć Half of all the facilities visited were not equipped to deal with cases of child survivors of sexual assault.

Key recommendations of the report (see full text at www.genderlinks.org.za, under Sixteen Days of Peace) are that the treatment clause in its entirety be reinstated in the Sexual Offences Bill currently before parliament.

The deleted treatment clause, Section 21 in the original Bill, stated: ¡§where a person has sustained physical, psychological or other injuries as a result of an alleged sexual offence, such person shall, immediately after the alleged offence, receive the appropriate medical care, treatment and counselling as may be required for such injuries.¡¨

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