Reported incidents of malnutrition in children under the age of five in the Free State Province and young mothers who give birth at home without the supervision of a qualified midwife, could thwart South Africa’s efforts towards the achievement of the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These disturbing discoveries were made by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) this week, during oversight visits to health care facilities in the province’s Xhariep District Municipality, when health workers revealed how serious a problem malnutrition was to children under five years of age.

If these challenges are not attended to urgently, the country will not meet the global goals as well as the targets of the National Development Plan (NDP), of eradicating hunger and improving maternal health by 2030.

SDG 3 is a commitment by world countries to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, and its targets include the reduction of global mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births by the year 2030, end the deaths of new-borns and children under the age of five years and end the epidemics of Aids, TB, malaria and tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

Other targets of SDG 3 are to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol and substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the heath workforce in developing and underdeveloped countries.

It further says that by 2030, countries must “end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons”.

During visits to the several clinics and hospitals in the Kopanong Local Municipality, an NCOP Delegation led by the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Social Services, Ms Landulile Dlamini, was told about how severe the problem of malnutrition was in the area, especially among children under the age of five.

Ms Dlamini said the incidents of malnutrition should not be taken lightly because South Africa was a signatory to the global commitment to end hunger and improve children’s health by the year 2030. “The issue of malnutrition especially to children under the age of five is very serious, it speaks directly to the SDGs’ targets to eradicate the death of children and end hunger, we need to act to improve the health of the children,” she said during a site visit to Fauresmith Clinic.

Her sentiments were echoed by fellow NCOP Delegate, Ms Thandi Mpambo-Sibhukwana, who further proposed that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) should be involved because of the seriousness of the problem in the district of Xhariep. “We cannot afford to have our children suffering from malnutrition, it affects their physical as well as mental development – and that affect the performance of the child at school. It can also result in skin and poor immune system that can harm the body’s ability to fight off infections,” she said.

In efforts to address the challenge, the clinics decided to distribute food supplements for the underweight and malnourished children in the poverty-stricken Xhariep, which nurses say is often not enough.

The Chief Executive Officer of Diamant Hospital in Jagersfontein, Mr Lesego Moatlhodi, told the Committee about incidents of mothers giving birth before arriving at a health facility (which they call Born Before Arrival in medical terminology) – which she said placed the health of both mother and child at risk.

Some of the reasons given were shortage and late arrivals of ambulances as well as clinics that don’t operate after hours and on weekends, forcing pregnant mothers to travel long distances to a hospital, while others chose to give birth at home when they think the baby was too close. Because of the vastness of the area, some give birth in the ambulance on their way to hospital.

Another NCOP Delegate, Mr Seiso Mohai who is also the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Appropriations, said: “Healthcare is a basic a basic right – no compromise, it must get to the people, no matter what it takes.”

Dr David Motau, the Provincial Head of the Department of Health in the Free State, acknowledged the shortage of ambulances and told the NCOP that plans were under way to move from the central government garage – and for the department to have its own fleet of vehicles.

By Sakhile Mokoena
18 May 2017