The health department will launch a policy that aims to improve the health of pupils, many of whom do not go to clinics and are likely to have undetected problems.
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang will launch the School Health Policy today at the JM Ntsime Secondary School in Rustenburg. Among the policy's aims are that nurses and other healthcare workers will visit every school over four years to check the health of Grade R and Grade 1 pupils.
One in 10 children has a chronic illness. Asthma is one of the most common of these. The World Health Organisation has recommended school health programmes as cost-effective ways of improving children's health and their ability to learn.
Nurses visit some South African primary schools, including many in Cape Town, at least once a year to check the health of young children. Health is also taught as part of the lifeskills curriculum.
But in too many schools this is not yet happening, said Estelle de Klerk, director of the health department's child and youth health directorate.
We are picking up children under the age of five in our primary health clinics because they go there for immunisations.
But children aged six to 18 are largely a missed opportunity. It has been found that they don't come to clinics unless they are desperately ill, she said.
The Schools Health Policy is part of a broader programme called the Health Promoting Schools programme, which aims to use all school resources to improve children's health.
In the first phase: nurses or other healthcare workers will visit the schools once or twice yearly to examine children's eyesight, hearing and mouths and cheek for speech impediments and injuries of all Grade Rs and Grade 1s; health education lessons will become part of all lifeskills programmes, and pupils will be taught to be alert to their health problems
and those of peers; and, pupils with problems will be referred to clinics for treatment, and nurses will cheek up, on their following visit, whether the problems have been treated.
The aim is that this phase will have been implemented in 30% of all schools by the end of next year, and in every school by the end of 2007.
Maylene Shungking, deputy-director of the Children's Institute, who helped draw up the policy, said that annual checkups would cost R29 a pupil and R3.47 a pupil for the other aspects of health education.
The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and the national Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) yesterday welcomed the policy, but warned that the health department would need to allocate a sufficient budget.
Much of the department's policy is progressive, but a very small budget is taken and stretched extremely thinly, said Suraya Jawoodeen, regional secretary for Nehawu.(Source
: The Cape Times, 22 July 2003)