Health experts list South Africa as
one of the African countries performing poorly in efforts to reduce maternal
and child mortality. The findings were reported in a survey issued by Countdown
to 2015, an initiative of the UN, governments and NGOs. The goal of Countdown
is to cut in half the number of deaths related to childbirth over the next
seven years. The situation is blamed
partly on its former system of apartheid which ended in 1994. Voice of America English to Africa service
reporter Unathi Kondile in Cape Town looks at the findings of 'Countdown to
2015' with regards to South Africa.
Many experts blamed apartheid for a fragmented health care
system that favored middle and upper class whites. A report by South Africa's
Medical Research Council shows that only seven percent of the country's doctors
serve in public health systems available to the poor.
About 75,000 children under five die each year – 30% of them
newborn babies. Many are born with HIV-AIDS.
Dr. Mickey Chopra is an official of the Medical Research
He says, "Ninety-five percent of women come for antenatal
care in our country – more than 85% of women are delivered by a skilled
attendant in a facility in South Africa. And yet we still have increasing
maternal mortality and increasing child mortality. What it says is that we have
this gap: people are coming to our
services, but they're not getting the improvements they should be getting."
Most affected are remote areas and poor rural villages –
where there are not enough health facilities. Chopra notes that South Africa's
democratically elected government has had 15 years to integrate the fragmented
health care systems it inherited
"We really have no excuse in South Africa. We have the
financial resources; we have the commitment of government in primary health
care and into the right policies. We just have to start to make things happen:
re-affirm our commitment to mothers and children. Also, [we should strengthen
our] priorities and facilitate some of the things I've mentioned in terms of
training, facilitating services as well as [bringing] in new cadres of
community workers and be creative in redressing our human resources shortages –
but really put the pride back in health care in this country and show that we
can make a difference."
There have been success stories, including the low-cost
kangaroo mother care system. With this method, the baby is carried in a pouch
around the mother's neck, much like a kangaroo carries its baby. The method is
effective in keeping the infant warm, preventing infections and facilitating
South Africa has also improved data collection on maternal
and infant deaths, which enable health practitioners to refine their strategies
for treating the problem.
Dr. Monir Islam is the director of the Department in Making
Pregnancy Safer at the World Health Organization:
"What we are doing in South Africa is to look at how we can
improve the quality of care of existing facilities. We're also looking at South
Africa for South-to-South collaborations. Can some of the expertise we have in
South Africa – can't that be used for Swaziland or Lesotho or Botswana or
Kenya? So we're looking at both ways. One is to improve the quality of care, at
the same time we're looking at South Africa - how we can tap into the resources
you have, technical resources for South-to-South collaborations, particularly
in SADC or neighboring countries."
Despite its poor ranking among the 68 countries
with high child and maternal mortality, health officials say things are
improving in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, access to medical
services has increased. And South Africa's Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala
Msimang has sworn the government's commitment to improving the survival of the
countries pregnant mothers and newborns.