‘Why is this problem of over-crowding suddenly happening?’, the Health Minister asked.
‘The issue of HIV and AIDS is central to these problems. Until South Africa deals decisively with HIV and AIDS, this problem is going to trouble us. It might even increase in magnitude and severity’, he answered.
To illustrate his point, the Minister showed journalists a power-point presentation and rattled off figures of child mortality in South Africa. He made direct reference to the deaths of some of the babies at Natalspruit Hospital.
‘What I want to show you is this’¦ which is what you noticed in the past two weeks, without, maybe, knowing’, he said.
‘We are having 20 000 still-births in South Africa every year and you are aware that four of the babies who died in Natalspruit (Hospital) are still-births. It’s part of this number. The number of neonates, that means, the newborns who die before their first year has reached 22 000 in South Africa. The number who die before they reach five years has reached 75 000. And 43% of these deaths’¦ the contributing factor’¦ is HIV and AIDS’.
‘Why am I saying it’s related to this, especially what you saw in Natalspruit?’, he asked again.
Then he answered: ‘The number of still-births reflects the number of pre-term babies, which you also see here. It’s a spectrum between still-births, pre-term, low birth weight. It just happens at different times, but it reflects the same situation, that all of a sudden the number of still-births will increase to 20 000, the number of pre-terms has increased and is over-crowding the hospital. Most of the kids who died are mostly low birth-weight babies because of that. That’s why I’m saying HIV/AIDS is at the centre of this’.
Drawing from the fact that HIV and AIDS accounts for most child and infant deaths in the country, the Health Minister suggested that the infection had a hand in the deaths of some of the children last week.
‘Stats South Africa says 57% of children under the age of five who died in 2007 died as a result of HIV. Now we know that babies who are HIV-positive are 15 times more likely to die within the first six months of life than uninfected babies.
That’s why we’re suddenly having neo-natal problems’¦ every neo-natal ward is full. I am not saying everybody who is part of these mortalities is HIV-positive nor am I proposing that the children who died last week is because all of them are HIV-positive. I can’t release the HIV status of people, but I can assure you that it’s definitely part of this equation and I’ve satisfied myself about that’, Motsoaledi said.
The Health Minister said it was ironic that the deaths coincided with the World Health Assembly’s meeting in Geneva last week where almost 200 Health Ministers from across the world met to discuss progress towards the attainment of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals on health related outcomes, including child mortality. He expressed concern about progress in this regard, particularly for the continent, including South Africa.
‘Millennium Development Goal 4, that is, infant mortality’¦ We know as a matter of fact that in our country, it is unacceptably high. There is a general fear that Africa won’t be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It means that we have been aware for quite some time ‘ not only in the country ‘ but throughout the whole world that the problem of infant mortality in Africa is just getting worse and that’s why we wanted to make a target that by 2015 we should have reduced by two’thirds or by half’, he said.
But he offered little comfort in terms of assurance that the country will achieve the Millennium Development Goals ‘ and he offered even the least comfort that the deaths of babies that occurred last week will be avoided in the future.
‘Within our own government, I can summarise the problem that happened by saying there is nothing new. It’s painful, but (it’s) not new. When we went on a diagnostic journey of what is wrong with health, these are some of the things that we went through. The only difference is that the solutions are not that fast. There is no solution that will make us get out of the problem much faster’, said Motsoaledi.