Executive Director of Grow Great, Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso,
National Coordinator of Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network, Mr Seydou Ndiaye,
Former Chile Minister of Health, and current Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Santiago, Dr Helia Molina
Deputy Director General of Research and Evaluation Center at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, Dr Teresa Shamah
Former Mission Director of POSHAN Abhiyaan and current Principal Commissioner of Delhi Development Authority, Government of India, Dr Rajesh Kumar,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to be here this morning and to be in the presence of men and women with a deep and abiding commitment to improving the material conditions of our nation’s children. Like you, I am extremely excited about the upcoming Child Health Priorities Conference, and I want to thank the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for its continued support of child development in South Africa.
The South African government has over the past 25 years prioritized the provision of quality healthcare services to our citizens, including pregnant women and children. This is an implicit recognition that the nation’s health outcomes can only improve if we intervene in the early years.
The focus on the provision of comprehensive Early Childhood Development (ECD) services also include working to ensure that expectant mothers receive adequate support for their pregnancies to be healthy and for their children to be born healthy. Regular antenatal care visits, adequate nutrition, abstaining from harmful practices like smoking and drinking alcohol, and exclusive breastfeeding where possible all contribute towards healthy pregnancies.
Through the Primary Schools Nutrition Programme government is ensuring that children from disadvantaged communities are able to have a decent meal, which fortifies them for the school day. These are just some of the interventionist measures being implemented to improve the health outcomes of our children.
The theme of this seminar: Survive, Thrive, Transform speaks to the centrality of preventative and early stage intervention in the persistent and troubling the problem of child stunting.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We share a common understanding: that a stunted child is a manifestation of a stunted family, society and nation. A child in a healthy body is able to fulfil its potential. We want to ensure not only that pregnant women are adequately supported to prevent this condition from occurring in the first place, but also that those children who have this condition are able to thrive.
As we embark on the last decade towards the realization of our nation’s developmental Vision 2030, Growing Great is also taking on the responsibility of rising to the priorities of the sixth administration.
Of particular interest to Growing Great are the priorities that call for improved educational outcomes, including ensuring that all children under the age of 10 are able to read for comprehension, as well as improvements in the living conditions of all South Africans.
These priorities are at the heart of what we are working towards in the South Africa we want.
We are part of civil society’s contribution to the various social compacts for which the President has called based on the belief that solutions to the challenges facing our nation depend on shared insights, vision and action. Our focus on stunted children is an intervention towards taking families and communities to greater heights.
The vulnerability of the children on whom we are focused is a reflection of the vulnerability of the families and communities where their lives are unfolding. These are children who are unable to fend for themselves in conditions of poverty conditions where long term unemployment and a shortage of work or life skills in their parents are among the constraints that face a diminishing but nevertheless important number of South Africans. These are children whose lived reality of inequality punches us in the gut when we move from wealthier parts of our cities or countryside to poorer communities.
We all know what it is to drive down streets of urban townships and rural towns and to see disturbingly high numbers of children who are clearly shorter than they should be. Very often, these children live close to communities where young children draw level with or tower over their parents in terms of physical stature.
This is a contrast witnessed every long weekend by hundreds of well to do South Africans who travel through our beautiful country on route to holiday weekends. It is a contrast that we should take seriously and act against, and whose eradication we should consider a personal and national obligation.
We are setting out to impact positively on children who witness social ills that have, in many cases, endured for generations within families and neighbourhoods. These are children who need hope, opportunity and the reality of a better future, as much as they need vitamins, minerals and the elements required for a healthy body and healthy mind.
These are children we must empower in ways that will give us the certainty that their future is in the classrooms, lecture halls and workplaces of our nation, and not on in the correctional or rehabilitation centres of our country.
And when these children do enter our schools, we must guarantee that our schools are safe spaces free from learner on learner violence free from learner on learner sexual activity free from violence between learners and educators, and free from sexual abuse of learners by educators.
It pains us that only half of children who start school in Grade 1 reach matric 12 years later. This is one of the most pressing challenges facing our society and it is one that should substantively inform every action we develop to create a better future for our country by creating a better future for our children.
We are therefore taking it upon ourselves and we are reaching out to partners in civil society and government to ensure that our action goes beyond nutrition, to the holistic nurturing of society as a whole. In the spirit of social compacting, Grow Great understands the necessity of involving communities in the development of solutions.
So often, when well resourced and well meaning people are drawn to intervening in challenging situations, we rush into solution mode, instead of treading into listening mode and appreciating the underlying causes of what we see before us.
We must be firm in our conviction that there is nothing about us without us and do our best to ensure that any responses we develop account for the needs, knowledge and proposals of the communities with whom we work.
This is how we grow South Africa together. With these words, I want to again thank you for the invitation to be here, and to once again express my eagerness to be part of the upcoming conference.
Let us continue to work together to resolve our challenges, in the spirit of respect and partnership. Let us deepen our collaboration in the cause of our children’s health. As they grow by the centimeter, our nation will grow one generation at a time.
I thank you.
Source The Presidency Republic of South Africa