South Africa failing its children - report

09 August 2010

Lori Lake, Charmaine Smith, Prof Maurice Kibel, Prof Shirley Pendlebury and Malathi PillaiIn partnership: Lori Lake (commissioning editor, Children's Institute); Charmaine Smith (communication and knowledge manager, Children's Institute); Prof Maurice Kibel (Emeritus Professor of Child Health, UCT); Prof Shirley Pendlebury (director, Children's Institute); and Malathi Pillai, of UNICEF South Africa, at the launch of the South African Child Gauge 2009/2010.

The South African Child Gauge 2009/2010 can probably be summed up as a damning report on the state of health of South Africa's young.

The Gauge is an annual publication of the Children's Institute at UCT, and tracks and reports the circumstances of the country's children. This latest edition - the fifth issue in the series - focuses on child health (previous editions covered education, social services, child poverty and HIV/AIDS).

The report notes that although South Africa is a middle-income nation, it ranks among the 12 worst countries in the world in failing to reduce child mortality since 1990. In fact, says the Gauge, the mortality rate for children under five in South Africa has risen from 56 deaths per 1 000 live births 20 years ago to 67 in 2008, according to modelled estimates by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). This has been attributed to the HIV pandemic, poor nutrition and living conditions, and a deteriorating health care system.

This indicates that the country is lagging behind the Millennium Development Goal to reduce under-five mortality by 2015. South Africa is also not on track to meet other MDG goals aimed at reducing poverty, hunger and disease.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the launch of the 2009/2010 issue UNICEF's deputy representative for South Africa, Malathi Pillai, applauded the government's decision to overhaul the health system and said the report is a call to everyone to work harder and ensure that the country's resources are used to deliver concrete results for children and mothers.

"We need to collect the right data, analyse it and use it to influence policies, and ensure that it reaches the end-users, the community workers," she explained. "We need to unpack the robust government policies and their robust plan of action."

Launched on 27 July, this edition was penned by child health experts from universities, NGOs and international agencies with the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, also contributing.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Jo Beall said the report exemplifies UCT's commitment to social responsiveness research, and is a good example of scholarly research that is presented in an accessible format to a broader audience

The full publication is available on here.

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