It was a pleasure to be able to take part in the launch of the Child Health Now campaign in South Africa on 20th October, knowing that the country’s health professionals, government and civil society are all committed to working together on behalf of the country’s poorest.
South Africa is one country where, in recent decades, child mortality figures have been getting worse. More than 70,000 children under five die each year, which I calculate to be the equivalent of a minibus-taxi crammed full of children every two hours, all day, every day.
HIV and AIDS is the main reason why things are going so badly in one of Africa’s most-developed countries. More than half of child deaths are AIDS-related. One in every six people newly-infected with HIV is a child – a thousand children a day, the majority in Southern Africa, most acquiring the virus from their mother.
Many of those deaths are preventable by modern medication and simple interventions. Where HIV-positive mothers are properly diagnosed, treated and supported, the proportion of children who are infected falls from a third to one in 50. But historically health care for the communities in which the children live has been neglected.
Now, though, a revitalised Ministry of Health has dynamic leadership and a bold plan to radically transform the situation for its poorest, most vulnerable people. Groups like World Vision, local community-based organisations and activist groups who cut their teeth campaigning for people living with HIV and AIDS are turning their attention to this injustice.
Child Health Now, which World Vision has now launched in 40 countries, provides a powerful impetus for change. In the year ahead World Vision staff will visit and talk to tens of thousands of children in schools, crèches, church-groups, health facilities and development projects across South Africa.
The media has taken a welcome interest in the theme of just health provision for all the country’s children, and partners are being drawn in from all parts of society.
You can join the campaign too, wherever you are. Go to www.childhealthnow.org and sign up.