SA lags behind in keeping kids alive, healthy
July 28 2010 at 02:42PM
By Sipokazi Maposa
South African children are paying the price for the country's failure to progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), with child mortality unacceptably higher than it was 10 years ago.
These were among the findings reported in the South African Child Gauge 2009/10, an annual review published by UCT's Children's Institute which monitors the state of the country's children.
Child health researchers who wrote the latest review said South Africa was still lagging far behind with the development targets aimed at ensuring children's rights to survival, health and development. An obvious indicator was the staggering child mortality rate, at 67 for every 1 000 live births, compared to 1990 when the figure stood at 56 for every 1 000 live births.
The MDG target was only 20 deaths for 1 000 births.
Children younger than five accounted for about 80 percent of child deaths, with diseases such as HIV and pneumonia being blamed. Only 64 percent of South African children enjoyed access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, leading to "avoidable deaths", such as from diarrhoea.
Despite being a middle-income country South Africa had performed poorly when compared with other low-income countries such as Malawi and Madagascar.
Poor health systems, resource constraints, inefficient management and poor leadership were blamed.
Societal inequalities between rich and poor, black and white, and between rural and urban provinces were also blamed for the high mortality rate.
The 2008 general household survey data showed that at least 40 percent of children had to travel more than half an hour to reach their nearest clinic.
Professor David Sanders of the UWC School of Public Health said the health system had failed the country's children. Underlying social issues, which included poor sanitation, unclean water, smoking and substance abuse during pregnancy and weak immunity all related to poor maternal education.
"The quality of health care in South Africa is sub-optimal, especially at community and primary levels.
"The key step to improve services is to improve staff levels and care at district hospitals. We need to focus on districts with high HIV and malnutrition (levels), and improve antenatal care and maternal nutrition.
"We (also) increasingly find obesity among small children because of unhealthy processed foods.
"There's no need to tell mothers to feed their children properly if they can't afford to," he said. Professor Haroon Saloojee, head of the Division of Community Paediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand, said: "The poor health status of South Africa's children is less the consequence of resource constraints and more the result of inefficient management and use of available resources, primarily due to poor leadership, poor organisation and the absence of accountability."
Malathi Pillai, the country's Unicef representative, said that South Africa needed to prevent "avoidable" deaths by strengthening its primary and district care services.
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