How it started

Mpilonhle, an isiZulu word meaning “a good life”, is a South African community-based organization located in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. It is dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions for the health and social problems faced by youth in South Africa, especially impoverished youth living in rural areas.

The end of apartheid and the advent of a democratically-elected government in 1994 brought political and social rights to the majority of the population that had been denied these rights for so long. But it did not end the inequality and poverty that resulted from hundreds of years of oppression. Adding to the burden faced by the newly democratic country was the explosion of the HIV epidemic, with South Africa remaining among the countries most severely affected by the epidemic.

In response to these challenges, Mpilonhle, was established as an NGO in 2006 with startup funding from Oprah Winfrey through the Oprah's Angel Network, and Charlize Theron, Academy Award winning actor and UN Messenger of Peace. The funders approached Dr.Michael Bennish to develop an Integrated Mobile Health Programme in Schools including counseling and testing services for HIV (HTS). A bold initiative for those early days. Dr. Bennish is a pediatrician and infectious disease expert who has worked in developing countries for over 30 years. Formerly a Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Community Health at Tufts University, he was the founding Director of the Africa Centre (renamed as The Africa Health Research Institute) a research center in South Africa.

Fourteen years later, Mpilonhle has worked in over 200 schools, using mobile clinics to provide integrated health services to more than 200,000 learners, including providing HTS to more than 110,000 learners. The programme has been adopted and scaled up by the South African Government and is now known as the Integrated School Health Programme from the Department of Health (ISHP).

Dr. F Kumalo, Chief Director: Care and Support in Schools, Department of Education, stated in 2019 about the Mpilonhle Integrated School Health Programme
"they were a pioneer in demonstrating how such services can, and should be provided to learners without disrupting teaching and learning, as well as maintaining privacy and confidentiality; all critical non-negotiable considerations for successful SRH service provision in school".

In 2013 Mpilonhle was recognized as one of 12 model public health programmes in South Africa. The analysis was commissioned by respected international health policy philanthropies, including Atlantic Philanthropies, and the South Africa National Department of Health. The report was published as “Documenting Good Practices in the Public Health Sector of South Africa: From Policy to Practice” The intent of the analysis and report was to “…to uncover “islands of excellence” and to make “systematic documentation of good practices within the public health sector and at the same time encourage creative and innovative approaches to current challenges in the public health arena”.

Over the years Mpilonhle added three more focus areas to its portfolio; Community Health, Computer Based Learning, and Environmental Education

Mpilonhle has recently completed implementing the Global Fund AGWY project in King Cetshwayo District, KZN. The Mpilonhle implementation strategy and results for the Global Fund AGYW project was commonly judged to have been the most successful of the six sub-recipients implementing the Global Fund AGYW project in different locales within South Africa.  

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