_: In 2009, government took a decision to make education an apex priority. In 2010, in the State of the Nation Address, I committed government to strengthen health programmes in public schools in our country.
We also began speaking about introducing a National Health Insurance scheme which would extend quality health care to all, whether rich or poor, urban or rural. We have gathered today to fulfil those government commitments, through launching the Integrated School Health Programme.
The programme forms part of the National Health Insurance (NHI) programme, which is in line with the World Health Organisation’s call for universal health coverage around the world regardless of people’s economic status.
Currently it is only 16 percent of the population, those with medical aids, who enjoy excellent all-round quality health care. We want to change that scenario and extend quality health care to all, hence the launch of today’s programme.
Tshwane is one of 10 districts in which government is piloting the National Health Insurance system. We will work through three pillars as part of initiating the NHI – in schools, municipal wards and in districts.
Today we are launching the first pillar, health care in schools. In promoting child and youth health we seek to correct a few shortcoming and problems. Firstly, we have to deal with the problem of unhealthy diets and lifestyles.
Secondly, we want to focus on promoting child mental health. We want to prevent and deal with the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in our schools, working with the Basic Education, Health, Social Development and Police departments.
We must not take the issue of mental health lightly.
Local studies show that a significant proportion of learners experience mental health problems. The most common are depression, anxiety and substance abuse. In the extreme cases many tragically commit suicide.
The most common risk factors for the youth are conflicts at home, exposure to violence and abuse, poverty, poor social support, lack of opportunities and peer pressure.
Because of these pressures, some of the children end up performing poorly at school. Thirdly it is the problem of high teenage pregnancies, which indicates a shortcoming in youth education.
Fourth, is the need to arrest the spread of HIV, which I refer to later in this presentation. Our new school health programmes seeks to correct these challenges and offer a more comprehensive service.
More than 500 health professionals have already been trained to deliver the school health programme. The services will be provided by School Health Teams, each led by a Professional Nurse. The Teams will also include Enrolled Nurses, Oral Hygienists, and Health Promoters.
The provision of health information and education will be age-appropriate. We will target each of the four educational phases – Foundation, Intermediate, Senior and the Further Education and Training Phase.
In the early phases, services will cover environmental and personal hygiene, especially the importance of hand-washing, healthy eating, the promotion of physical exercise and safety. Health professionals will also check the ears, eyes, immunisation status, and nutritional status of children.
In the intermediate phase, attention will be paid to mental health issues including depression and suicide, as well as issues related to substance abuse. Information on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as well as HIV and AIDS will also be introduced.
About three quarters of learners who become pregnant leave school at the time of the pregnancy, and only between a third and a half of these return to school. It is almost always the girl child who has to deal with the stigma and other negative consequences of the pregnancy. We are reminded of this fact more strongly today, as it is the International Day of the Girl Child.
Equipping girls and boys with information on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies can thus play an important role in ensuring that all learners reach their full potential.
We know that this subject makes parents uncomfortable, understandably so. But we have to face the reality that some learners are sexually active, no matter how much this knowledge troubles us as parents.
To deal with this reality and promote primary health care, the school health nurse and team will provide sexual and reproductive health services including contraception as well as HIV Counselling and Testing, where appropriate. It is a fact that our young people are at risk of contracting HIV infection.
Figures from the 2010 Antenatal HIV prevalence survey showed that more than a fifth of pregnant young women between 15 and 24 years of age were HIV infected, as were 9.4% of girls who were pregnant.
Thus we have an obligation both to educate our learners on how to prevent HIV infection, and also to ensure that those who are infected are identified and receive the treatment, care and support which they require. It is a painful reality of the times we live in.
We wish to emphasise that the package of sexual and reproductive health services will be provided by a professional nurse in a one-on-one private and confidential consultation. What government is doing, is making the service available to the learners when needed, with the support of parents.
These services will be made available after consultation with the school community led by the school governing body. We urge parents and communities to give the intervention a chance. It is important for the children and for the community at large.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We call this new health programme an integrated health service because many departments come together to provide various services. The Department of Health will provide health care. The Department of Social Development will assist learners who are found to be vulnerable and in need of care and support. The Departments of Basic Education and Sports and Recreation will promote physical education and sports to ensure healthy lifestyles.
Wednesday afternoons will become Magnificent Wednesdays. They will be allocated for school sports as well as establishing School Sport Leagues. We encourage all schools to participate as our intention is also to develop talent from our schools for our national sports teams such as Banyana Banyana, Bafana Bafana, the Springboks or the Proteas.
Over time, more services will be added, especially in the NHI pilot districts where services will be provided using the mobile vehicles on display today. We currently do not have the resources to provide these services to learners in all grades and in all schools in the country.
We have therefore chosen a phased approach. We will start with the no-fee schools which include the most disadvantaged schools in the country that serve our poorest communities.
We have consulted widely with School Governing Body formations, Teacher Unions, Principals Associations and with education officials. We have received resounding support for the programme. We will continue to work with parents, school by school, as we implement.
Full implementation will require additional resources including health professionals such as Professional Nurses, Enrolled Nurses and Health Promoters. The provincial departments of health are recruiting retired nurses in order to increase the human resource pool that will render the school health service.
We are very excited about the programme as it will greatly assist in preventing illnesses and reduce the burden on the health system. Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to acknowledge the support from our development partners.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank the European Union for the support, especially with regard to procuring the NHI pilot school health mobiles and health screening equipment.
I would also like to thank other partners such as United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF), the World Health Organisation, Love Life, Soul City and others who worked tirelessly in developing the Integrated School Health Programme.
We count on this team to continue their work to ensure that the implementation of this programme is a resounding success. Before I conclude, allow me to use this opportunity to wish all our Grade 12 learners around the country successful final year examinations. We want you to do well and will support you all the way as parents, teachers and government.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have started this journey together. We must keep our promise of improving the lives of the children of South Africa and to build a successful, healthy and educated nation. It is now my singular honour and privilege to officially launch the country’s Integrated School Health Programme!