The number of mothers and babies dying in South Africa are rising because of sub-standard health care finds a report launched today.
While the nation, soon to host the World Cup football tournament, now has universal access to healthcare for pregnant women and their children, still almost 7 per cent of children will not live to see their fifth birthday, it revealed.
The rate of child death, often from preventable causes, has risen from five per cent 20 years ago to 6.7 per cent found the Human Sciences Research Council report. It makes South Africa one of only 10 countries in the world where child deaths are rising and the nation’s chances of meeting The Millenium Development Goal on health, now look increasingly slim.
"The infant mortality rate in our country is very high,” said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. “Only 10 countries have seen an increase in the infant mortality rate and South Africa is one of them," he said at the launch of the Health of Our Children report in Cape Town.
Last month, medical journal, The Lancet published a list of countries where child mortality was increasing and all of them apart from South Africa, were African countries which had suffered armed conflict.
HIV/Aids is the biggest killer of mothers and babies in South Africa and accounts for 35 per cent of deaths in children under. But poor quality health care, low rates of immunization rates and misguided infant feeding practices are all key factors leading to the poor health of pregnant women and children.
South Africa's child immunisation rates were "very, very low," said Mr Motsolaledi said and this, coupled with the struggle women face trying to breast-feed while holding down a job, left thousands vulnerable to life-threatening diseases.
"I think that [baby milk formulas] must be banned throughout the world," he told South Africa’s The Times newspaper. He said it was "criminal" that working mothers did not get "at least four months" of maternity leave to exclusively breast-feed their babies. He added that although 97% of mothers received treatment during pregnancy and gave birth in clinics and hospitals, the quality of care was poor, leading to many "unnecessary" deaths of mothers and babies.
To improve health care for the nation’s women and children, South Africa will need to tackle resource shortfalls, such as the inadequate supply of aids drugs at some public health facilities, and staff shortages at others, said HSRC study researcher, Dr Khangelani Zuma.