Health minister concerned babies are missing immunisations as mothers fear Covid-19

Health minister concerned babies are missing immunisations as mothers fear Covid-19Health minister is concerned that children are missing vaccinations (file photo)

The Covid-19 lockdown could be a double threat to young children: disrupting scheduled immunisation efforts and threatening nutritional security.

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South Africa could find itself grappling with a wave of preventable illnesses if children continue missing immunisation and growth monitoring appointments, warns health minister.

 Dr Zwelini Mkhize says his department is concerned that parents who are fearful of contracting Covid-19 at health facilities are skipping scheduled appointments.

“We have noticed that some babies and children are missing their immunisations and growth monitoring during this time. Many of the illnesses we vaccinate against such as measles, polio and meningitis; are more dangerous for children than COVID-19,” says Mkhize.

Mkhize is urging mothers and caregivers not to miss scheduled vaccinations, adding that clinics and other health facilities are resourced with a triage mechanism to ensure primary healthcare is not compromised by the country’s response to the pandemic. Mkhize was speaking at this year’s launch of World Breastfeeding Week, marked from 1 to 7 August.

One in four children rely exclusively on breastfeeding

About 32% of babies rely exclusively on breastfeeding, which represents about one in four children, the health minister says. Still, that is “not good enough,” falling below the ministry’s  target of 50% of children exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

“Breastfeeding should begin within the first hour after birth, and all babies – regardless of the mother’s HIV status – should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. This means only breastmilk, not even water for the first six months. Babies need nothing else, no additional food or solids,” Mkhize says.

South Africa’s target is in line with that set by the World Health Organization, which aims to achieve a 50% rate of exclusive breastfeeding by 2025. To reach that, mothers need to be supported says Muriel Mafico, Deputy Country Representative for the United Nations’ children’s agency Unicef.

“We know that breastfeeding is not a lonesome journey, it requires a good support system. Mothers need the support from healthcare workers, someone who can listen to their experiences, respond to their needs and to reassure them — especially the young mothers — giving them skilled advice. Too many mothers simply do not have that support,” says Mafico.

Covid-19 could lead to a nutrition crisis

 With breastfeeding as “the most cost-effective health intervention that we have at our disposal,” it could help prevent a nutritional crisis among children, brought on by the pandemic, says Mafico.

“Covid-19 has disrupted all aspects of life and it has the potential to become a nutrition crisis. This is due to the impact that Covid is having in terms of disrupting food systems as a result of income loss and the overstretched essential services, including early detection and treatment of child wasting. We need to safeguard the gains that the health sector before the onset of COVID-19,” she adds.- Health-e News