Since 2011, National School Health Week (04 – 08 March), has brought focus to healthcare at schools in areas which lack adequate access to these services. Adopt-a-School (AAS) Foundation partners with civil society, corporate South Africa and the Department of Education to implement programmes tackling a wide range of health issues, from sanitation to sexual education and visual health, at its partner schools on an ongoing basis.
Seventy percent of South Africa’s children live in rural areas, and many live in households with incomes below the poverty line.* As a result, these learners often lack access to the most basic healthcare services. This reduces attendance at schools and the learners’ ability to concentrate on school activities in the classroom, causing poor pass and retention rates.**
The World Bank reports that unemployment among the youth (aged 15 to 24 years old) is almost 50%, which is double the national rate. Sixty percent of our youth have not achieved a matric qualification and as such, the greatest priority should be to improve levels of educational attainment.*** “We need to work collectively to remove barriers to learning, including lack of healthcare, in order to create environments that are conducive to effective learning,” says Banyana Mohajane, Head of Skills and Social Development at AAS.
“Our holistic school development approach not only puts focus on education but also on the socio-economic influences that affect our youth; including giving them access to much needed primary health care services,” she continues.
“Many female learners cannot afford sanitary pads and this leads to them using inadequate substitutes like toilet paper, newspaper or pieces of fabric,” explains Mohajane. “Many girls stay home as a result or suffer anxiety and indignity at school. On average, girls miss eight days of school each year as a result of menstruation,” she concluded.
Last year AAS facilitated a Health, Sanitation and Sexual Education Programme at 20 high schools and three primary schools which distributed more than 13 000 sanitary packs to girls on an ongoing basis throughout the year.
The Health, Sanitation and Sexual Education Programme also addressed puberty and sex education at these schools by facilitating public discussions with both boys and girls about these topics. This helped to challenge the stereotype that girls are the only ones that need to be concerned with issues like sexual health and teenage pregnancy.
Another AAS programme focusses on awareness of sexual abuse and the support of victims of this abuse. The Foundation continues to work with government, law enforcement and community leaders to ensure that both parents and learners are aware of the realities of sexual abuse and that the affected learners have access to services that will allow them to recover from abuse.
AAS visual and auditory testing programmes are implemented at each school and in 2016, 13 199 learners had their eyesight tested. As a result, 429 pairs of spectacles were distributed to learners. It is estimated that between 2.4% and 6% of learners suffer from visual impairment* and without testing, these disabilities are often ‘hidden’ and result in impaired communication, literacy and educational achievement, as well as social and psychological development.
The Foundation plans to continue and expand upon this work in the next twelve months. The Foundation call upon parents, educators, companies and communities to join forces to make a success of these efforts during the 2017 School Health Week.
“Together we can make a material difference to the health and future prosperity our country’s most vulnerable young people,” says Mohajane, “Let us work together to ensure the health and education of the next generation of South Africans.”