‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than in the way it treats its children.’ These words by former President Nelson Mandela remains relevant as the country and the world celebrates his birthday during July.

In South Africa, the government pledged to “put children first” when it became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and by according children special recognition in the Bill of Rights enshrined in country’s Constitution.

However, ensuring optimal development of all children poses a considerable challenge to South Africa. Whilst poverty-related illnesses such as childhood infectious diseases and malnutrition remain widespread, many children face barriers to optimal health and school development because of the vision, hearing or oral health challenges.

Violence and injuries constitute a further cause of premature deaths and disability, whilst a growing burden of non-communicable diseases is also evident. As a result, of these issues children face many challenges relating to health and social matters.

School Health Programmes are essential to address these challenges. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a school health programme as a combination of services ensuring the physical, mental and social well-being of learners so as to maximise their learning capabilities.

Where kids are

The WHO Expert Committee on School Health argue that school health programmes can advance public health, education, social and economic development and that the global expansion of school health initiatives attests to the value placed internationally on such programmes.

This commitment aims to ensure that children’s rights are upheld, and that provision is made to enable all children to reach their full potential. This is especially important in the formative school years, during which providing special attention to children’s optimal health will improve not only their survival, growth and health, but also their learning outcomes and development.

“I can’t think of a better way to deliver primary care and preventive care – to not only students, but by extention their families – than through school-health mobile clinics.”

– Dr Rosy Ndhlovu, occupational medical doctor

School Health Programmes usually consist of the following elements:

  • Health-related school policies
  • Ensuring a healthy physical, learning environment,emphasising safe water and sanitation
  • Skills-based health education
  • School-based health and nutrition services

More than 12-million learners are enrolled in public schools in South Africa. This number is likely to increase as the transformation and strengthening of the education system enables it to retain more learners for longer. Although school health services have been provided in South Africa for some time, implementation has been variable and sub-optimal, with low coverage in some areas of the country.

The implementation of school health policies, however, requires a strong inter-sectorial collaboration.

Supporting academic success

While the Departments of Health and Basic Education remain key role players, civil society and development partner organisations, such as Innovo Mobile Healthcare, are crucial to contribute to the development and implementation of sustainable and comprehensive school health programmes.

Through our school healthcare programmes, Innovo Mobile Healthcare aims to instil healthy bodies not only for learners but their extended communities as well. These include teachers, families and community members. We believe that a healthy community translates into a prosperous and successful community.

Source: SA Department of Health, SA Department of Basic Education.

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