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Health minister shocked by SA child death rate

Resource type: News

Mail & Guardian Online |

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – Over 60 000 children, aged between a month and five years, die in South Africa each year, according to a report released at a health summit in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Many of the children die at home having had prior contact to health services,” reads the document, penned by a national committee appointed to investigate the causes of child deaths in the country.

It was circulated at the Maternal, Child and Women’s Health Summit in Boksburg.

The committee was set up by former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in February last year to review maternal, perinatal and childhood deaths.

Its findings are backed by Development Bank of South Africa reports of last year and, more recently, by reports prepared by academics for the Lancet medical journal.

The reports suggested the country had the correct healthcare policies and guidelines, but was struggling to implement them, causing thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The summit, the first of its kind, was intended to examine ways of meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on healthcare.

Some of the major causes of childhood death listed in the report include diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections, conditions associated with HIV/Aids and malnutrition.

Reasons given for maternal deaths included a lack of skills by practitioners in performing caesarean sections, dealing with obstetric emergencies, administering anaesthesia and lack of adherence to protocol.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday told hundreds of healthcare practitioners he was “shocked” when briefed by chairpersons on ministerial committees about the issue.

Suggestions to reduce deaths included improving the skills of doctors and nurses, strengthening post-natal care and improving quality and coverage of reproductive health services.

“We cannot allow a single woman to die in childbirth or neonate to die because of our negligence … It will be criminal for us to allow any of these things to happen. Unfortunately there is no other word for it but criminal.”

A third of deaths among women and children were avoidable, he said.

Motsoaledi said all recommendations would be taken seriously and implemented “as soon as possible”. Health practitioners would discuss at the summit how to implement them.

He noted that many countries poorer than South Africa had much better health systems.

“If they can achieve better health outcomes with fewer resources, why can’t we? It is not acceptable that mothers die from avoidable causes.”

Motsoaledi acknowledged some areas needed more resources, but said there were many resources not being used efficiently. – Sapa

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