Skip to main content

In 20 years let’s make sure no child is born to die

Thursday 8 May 2014

In 20 years let’s make sure every child survives and thrives

by Ms Gugulethu Ndebele, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children South Africa

April 27th is a day of celebration for South Africa. As a country, we are celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy. It is therefore fitting that we use this major milestone to reflect on or achievements and challenges over the twenty year period.  As Save the Children, we reflect through the lenses of the children. We have much to celebrate for children. The last twenty years have seen a number of important changes. Health wise, remarkable progress has been made in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the roll-out of Anti -retrovirals. In education, nearly all children are in school and the poorest children are exempt from paying fees and receive quality lunches every day. The child support grant and other benefits targeted at the most vulnerable children have been extended to all children up to the age of 18 to mitigate the effects of extreme poverty

However, there are still big challenges and we must not lose sight of the big picture. We need to ensure that every child has access to essential and lifesaving health services, every child stays in school and receives a quality education so that when they grow up they can be productive citizens. We also need to ensure that every child is protected from violence.

For most of my career, I have worked in education and have experienced the education challenges  first hand.  A few weeks ago I left that world behind to join Save the Children South Africa. As Save the Children South Africa we work on many issues affecting children. Our programmes are aimed at improving access to quality, basic healthcare and education, and to meet the protection rights of children in South Africa. We also work nationally, provincially and at grassroots level to advocate for legislative and policy changes to ensure children’s rights to survival, protection, development and participation are respected. But, our global campaign is focussed on ending preventable child deaths because for children to thrive and meet their full potential, they firstly need to survive.

Whilst, child mortality rates have drastically reduced in the last five years, efforts still need to be accelerated if South Africa is to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 of a two thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015. Addressing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals will require a continued focus on critical objectives—not only on measures to prevent HIV but also on other important causes of child mortality. One of the most significant challenges is newborn deaths which account for a third of under-5 deaths.  In South Africa, each day around 20 newborns die on the day they are born. So today, whilst many families will be celebrating the birth of our nation, for other families it will not be a day of happiness but one of sadness.

We know what needs to be done– we understand the causes of child death and ill-health and we have the solutions.  Many strong strategies and policies are already in place; some are longstanding such as the decision to make healthcare free for children younger than 6 and pregnant women  and more recently the Tshwane Declaration which pledges to actively promote, protect and support exclusive breastfeeding as a key public health intervention. This is critical given the current low exclusive breastfeeding rate.  Our challenge is reaching all children across South Africa with high quality services.  That demands renewed effort to tackle the underlying causes of child and newborn mortality such as inequality and poverty.

2014 is full of opportunities. This year has seen momentum building for the global Every Newborn movement. South Africa has been a leader in this effort. A new international Action Plan will be launched here in Johannesburg in just a few months’ time but it will need political will and commitment to ensure it delivers for children.

Investing in the health of children is an investment for all of us.  This freedom day, let’s resolve to make sure that 20 years from now every child survives and thrives. By working together –government, civil society organisations such as Save the Children, the private sector and of course communities we can achieve a South Africa where no child is born to die.