NHI: School health teams take screenings to rural children
For the country’s rural children, the revitalisation of school health services could be a lifeline – if doctors and specialists answer the call.
Accompanying the National Health Insurance pilot nationwide, the latest iteration of school health focuses not just on screening pupils but linking them to services through mobile clinics and the re-introduction of school nurses like Nakumba Nene.
The programme is also part of reforms preparing South Africa to introduce universal healthcare via a NHI.
Nationally, revamped school health teams have screened more than 280,000 learners in the country’s poorest schools for problems related to nutrition, speech and eye sight.
“We discovered that about one-third of (learners) had at least one of the three problems – eye sight, hearing, oral hygiene,” Health Minister Dr. Motsoaledi recently told Health-e News. “They need somebody to do something about it but when you check for (specialists) they are not available for them in the public sector, they are all in the private sector for the well to do.”
Until the Western Cape’s NHI pilot district, Eden, began piloting the NHI – which included establishing one school health team for each of its six sub-districts – the Garden Route district had no designated school health staff outside George and no outreach services to rural schools.[quote float= right]“We discovered that about one-third of (learners) had at least one of the three problems – eye sight, hearing, oral hygiene”
In their first year, Eden teams screened more than 12,000 students for health problems.
Mpumalanga’s NHI pilot district, Gert Sibande, has 29 school health teams but many of the children school Nene refers for oral health problems will never make it to the dentist’s chair due to a lack of dentists and oral hygienists in the rural province, according to one Mpumalanga doctor who asked to remain anonymous.
Mpumalanga is not alone in its shortage of specialists. A recent audit of KwaZulu-Natal health professionals found that about 90 percent were located along the province’s coast or in Pietermartizburg – leaving scant professionals for the province’s rural areas, according to Motsoaledi.
Deputy Director General for the NHI in Mpumalanga Dr Savera Mohangi says it is not easy to attract health specialists to the district due to the nature of the area, some doctors find it harder to adapt to the environment and return home.
Nene added that schools closer to main roads often remain better serviced than those tucked amid tough terrain. She added that the programme also needed more nurses.
*Additional reporting by Laura Lopez Gonzalez
- Read more from Health-e News’ NHI investigation