Mpumalanga school health programme battles parents, budgets

Mpumalanga school health programme battles parents, budgetsPakistan and Afghanistan are now the “last frontiers” in the world's push to eradicate polio (File photo)

The Mpumalanga Department of Health is looking to take school health services to more of the province’s children, but parents and budgets may stand in its way.

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Nontobeko Buthelezi is a working mom, which means it is hard to take time off to queue at the local clinic to ensure her daughter gets regular check ups.

For Buthelezi, the roll out of the province’s school health programme has been a welcomed relief to the pressures of trying to balance work and check ups.

“As a mother who doesn’t time because of work I am in full support of the initiative to provide health services in schools,” said Buthelezi, who added that she especially appreciates the school-based roll out of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for girls to help protect them from cervical cancer.

School health teams across the country are currently administering the first of the two-dose vaccine to girls nine years and older in Grade 4 with the second dose to follow in September.

By June 2015, school health teams had screened almost 300,000 learners across the country. According to Health Minister Dr. Motsoaledi, about a third of learners screened had either eye, hearing or dental problems.

However, local teacher Amos Dube said school health teams continue to face some resistance from parents including those like Daphne Sibande who continue to resist HPV vaccinations.

Now, the Mpumalanga Department of Health is looking to increase the scope of its school health teams to reach more children with services like basic health screenings, immunisations and treatment for common illnesses like worms.

According to a March report of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health on Oversight, Mpumalanga plans to increase the range of ages screened by school health teams to include children in grades one, four, eight and 10.

Mpumalanga currently has 18 school health teams, which the Portfolio Committee on Health on Oversight noted were insufficient to cover all the province’s schools.

While the Mpumalanga Department of Health plans to increase school health staff by recruiting retired nurses, the committee added that the province currently does not have the budget to hire new nurses.