Why ig­nore health of our young­sters?

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Pro­fes­sor Priscilla Reddy

YOUTH Month has come to an end. South Africans have spent much of the month de­lib­er­at­ing on the chal­lenges fac­ing young peo­ple, in­clud­ing how to en­sure more are ab­sorbed into the labour mar­ket and whether we are pro­vid­ing them with the cor­rect skills and ed­u­ca­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the econ­omy.

This con­ver­sa­tion is cru­cial when we take into ac­count the in­creas­ing rate of digitisation and mech­a­ni­sa­tion of the for­mal econ­omy.

While ed­u­ca­tion and skills of our young peo­ple are top of mind for most South Africans, we do not seem to pay suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion to their health. Good health in child­hood and ado­les­cence can be cor­re­lated with good health in adult­hood.

There is also an eco­nomic cost to poor health, not just for the in­di­vid­ual, but for the pub­lic health sys­tem as well.

Ado­les­cence is a crit­i­cal pe­riod with spe­cific health and de­vel­op­men­tal needs and rights. Ado­les­cents are vul­ner­a­ble be­cause their ca­pac­i­ties are still de­vel­op­ing and so­cial in­flu­ences can shape their health and be­hav­iours. In­vest­ing in ado­les­cent health cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity to gen­er­ate hu­man cap­i­tal for the coun­try. More­over, it can trans­form the lives of young peo­ple and bring long-term ben­e­fits be­cause the health sta­tus in ado­les­cence is likely to af­fect well­be­ing in adult­hood.

Good nutri­tion and qual­ity pri­mary health­care are cru­cial to en­abling ado­les­cent health. It is there­fore quite an in­dict­ment that South Africa ranks 70th out of 132 coun­tries for stunted growth rates ac­cord­ing to the third Global Nutri­tion Re­port, re­leased at the end of 2016. The re­port sug­gests that South African chil­dren are worse off than their coun­ter­parts in poorer coun­tries in­clud­ing Haiti, Sene­gal, Thai­land, Libya and Mau­ri­ta­nia.

South Africa is also is un­der-per­form­ing nu­tri­tion­ally com­pared with coun­tries at sim­i­lar in­come level.

Brazil, Colombia, Mozam­bique, Malawi, Peru and Sene­gal have all achieved sig­nif­i­cant gains in pro­vid­ing qual­ity nutri­tion while South Africa’s success has been lim­ited.

In ad­di­tion, re­sults from South Africa’s Youth Risk Be­hav­iour Sur­vey (YRBS) (2002, 2008, 2011) and Global Youth To­bacco Sur­vey (1998, 2002, 2008, 2011) re­veal some star­tling trends. We see high rates of risky sex­ual be­hav­iour and high preg­nancy rates in South African ado­les­cents. Re­sults from the YRBS 2002, 2008, and 2011 showed that, ap­prox­i­mately only a quar­ter of ado­les­cents al­ways use con­doms dur­ing sex; 18% had been preg­nant; and 14% had a child. More specif­i­cally, in a sam­ple of school­girls aged 15 and younger, 14% of them had had sex; 42% had mul­ti­ple sex­ual part­ners in the past three months; and 8% had an abor­tion.

School is the key set­ting to pro­mote health and well­be­ing. Act­ing head of the HSRC’s Pop­u­la­tion Health, Health Sys­tems and In­no­va­tion.

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