While government feeding programmes are in place, intervention is needed to prevent malnutrition in young children, a Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) report has found.

Released on recently, Stats SA’s report on education — titled ‘Education Series Volume IV: Early Childhood Development (ECD) in South Africa’ — found that while the country has registered positive achievements in health and education, malnutrition is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

“Malnutrition at a very young age needs immediate attention. North West, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal had most young children, who were underweight and stunted,” noted the 2016 report.

The report found that government feeding programmes target mostly primary and secondary schools, with only limited service to some ECD centres.

The main purpose of the report is to provide data on child well-being and to describe the life situations of children aged 0 – 6 in 2016.

“More targeted feeding scheme interventions need to be done either through the primary health care system or through social services to reach all children at risk of malnutrition. Nutrition interventions for pregnant women at risk need to be put in place in order to prevent low birth weight.”

It found that stunting was high in Gauteng and Free State provinces at 34.2% and 33.5% respectively. It was found to be low in the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo (21.4%, 21.5%, and 21.9% respectively).

According to the report, the incidence of severe acute malnutrition among children aged under five was 3.6% in 2016 and was the highest in Free State and North West (6% each) and the lowest in Gauteng at 2%.

“Severe acute malnutrition among young children is a potentially fatal condition. While North West and Free State, which reported the highest incidence, were also the provinces with the highest fatality rate (11.6% and 8.8% respectively) resulting from acute malnutrition among children aged under five.

“Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo had similarly high death rates associated with severe acute malnutrition (9.4%, 9.6% and 8.7%) respectively,” the report said.

Access to piped water

When coming to access to piped water on site for households with young children, inequalities were revealed in service delivery. The Eastern Cape had the worst access to piped water at 35.1%, while Gauteng had the best access at 94.1%.

“Access to improved sanitation was low in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces. Households in these provinces rather used poor sanitation facilities that include pit toilets and bucket toilets that put young children at risk of death or diseases.”

ECD attendance

The report found that while the attendance of any ECD programme for young children is necessary as part of school readiness of children by the time they have to enroll in Grade R, almost half of three-year-old children did not attend any ECD learning programme.

“Almost half of the three-year-old children did not attend any ECD learning program (49%); close to 29% of children aged four did not participate in ECD learning; and among children aged 5 or 6, close to 13% each did not go to any facility or participated in ECD related learning.”

Stats SA added that government has created a conditional grant to provinces to realise early access to learning programmes for young children.

“Investment in ECD programmes by government is pragmatic and has a strategic importance because of its ethical justification around social justice. It would also provide the means for households to escape the poverty traps through the next generation that could engage in more sustainable livelihoods due to better opportunities afforded to them.”

In 2016, according to the General Household Survey (GHS) data, the number of children aged 0 – 6 in South Africa was close to 7.2 million. – SAnews.gov.za

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