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The HERStory research brief series focuses on the health, education and well-being of adolescent girls and young women in South Africa

BriefCape Town | As women’s month draws to an end, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has released a series of research briefs showcasing recent study findings and highlighting implications for promoting the health, education and well-being of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in South Africa. The series is based on findings from the HERStory studies which were conducted by the SAMRC’s Health Systems Research Unit, supported by colleagues from Brown University School of Public Health, the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

From 2016 to the present day, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (the Global Fund) has invested in a combination intervention for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) aged 10 to 24 years in priority districts in South Africa, with the aim of reducing HIV incidence, teenage pregnancy, and gender-based violence, and increasing retention in school and access to economic opportunities. The AGYW programme has been implemented since 2016 in twelve districts with some of the highest rates of HIV and teenage pregnancy in the country. The districts are in eight provinces: North West Province, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal. The AGYW programme aims to address factors that lead to AGYW dropping out of school, and that make AGYW vulnerable to HIV and teenage pregnancy.

Using the findings from the studies evaluating the AGYW programme, these research briefs are used as a tool to outline areas of concern and summarise the key findings of recent studies and their implications for policy and practice in the South African context. They also provide empirically based, practical, actionable information for policy makers, programme designers and implementers, practitioners, citizens, and communities.

The studies show that innovative programmes like the donor-funded programme we have been evaluating, are showing promise. Our research identifies aspects of these programmes that are impactful and aspects that could be strengthened in the future. These programmes are making a difference to the lives of AGYW and should be strengthened and implemented widely.

When strengthening programmes for AGYW, it is important to take into consideration that our research, and much other research, shows that AGYW in these districts are vulnerable due to structural issues such as poverty, poor education systems, gender power imbalances, unresponsive public health services, and communities that might not be supportive of their needs).  Programmes need to focus on these aspects of the context in which AGYW live so that AGYW can be safe, thrive, and live healthy lives.

Specialist scientists and co-authors of the research briefs, Drs Zoe Duby and Kim Jonas, have emphasized that in order to ensure relevance of the research conducted, they apply implementation science principles and approaches, and engage and partner with Departments of Health at all levels of government, as well as with communities and other stakeholders.

“With these research briefs, we hope to share our research findings beyond the academic community, in the hope that we can reach key decision makers with evidence-based practical and actionable information to improve the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable adolescent girls and youth women in South Africa,” said Dr Duby.

Echoing these sentiments, Dr Jonas added that: “As researchers, we have an ethical responsibility towards the communities we conduct research in. We must be committed to ensuring that our research findings have an impact and help to address the health challenges that South Africans face today”.

To date, as part of this series, nine research briefs have been developed and released:

  1. Addressing the intersecting vulnerabilities in mental health and sexual and reproductive health amongst adolescent girls and young women in South Africa | Read More
  2. Access, use, and perceptions of contraception services among adolescent girls and young women in South Africa | Read More
  3. Addressing barriers to open sexuality communication between South African adolescent girls and young women and their mothers to facilitate safe sexual and reproductive decision-making | Read More
  4. Understanding why South African Adolescent Girls and Young Women engage in Transactional Sex and Relationships | Read More
  5. Educational equity and transformation in a digital age: Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic | Read More
  6. Relationship Dynamics, Gendered Power, and Motivations for Condomless Sex Amongst Adolescents and Young People in South Africa | Read More
  7. COVID-19 and socio-economic mental health stressors in the lives of South African adolescent girls and young women | Read More
  8. Safe Spaces for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) as part of combination HIV prevention programmes in South Africa: how accessible, feasible and acceptable are they? | Read More
  9. Lessons learned from implementing a PrEP programme for adolescent girls and young women in South Africa | Read More

Additional research briefs are under development and shall be added to the series.

SAMRC President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray said the release of this series of research briefs is in line with the organisation’s strategic plan which includes the generation of new knowledge and its translation into policy and practice. “If not properly packaged and disseminated, new scientific knowledge will remain locked in academic papers, out of sight of key stakeholders such policymakers as well as reaching and impacting on the lives of South Africans – therefore, these research briefs aim to bridge that divide.” 


About the HERStory studies:

The HERStory studies, are evaluations of the South African combination HIV-prevention intervention for Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) conducted by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and partners | Read More

  • To access, view or download any of the research briefs in this series, of for further information on the HERStory Study | Read More
  • To access other research and policy briefs developed by the SAMRC | Read More

MEDIA ENQUIRIES:                                    

Dr Zoe Duby
Qualitative Specialist Scientist | Health Systems Research Unit 
South African Medical Research Council

Dr Kim Jonas
Specialist Scientist | Health Systems Research Unit 
South African Medical Research Council

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