Public school loos 'unhygienic'
South Africa's government schools' toilets are filthy and unhygienic and their bad condition has forced many pupils to relieve themselves in the bushes.
This was revealed by non-governmental organisation Section 27 executive director Mark Heywood at the People's Health Assembly currently being held at the University of the Western Cape.
The assembly, which started last Thursday, has attracted 500 delegates, including community health workers, academics and government representatives from various countries.
It is hosted by the People's Health Movement, an international networking group that looks at addressing failing public health systems, increasing health burdens on poor nations and the general state of declining public health systems.
Heywood said while South Africa was nearly 20 years into its democracy "we're failing millions of young people as they do not have the right to decent health or education".
He added: "While some schoolchildren are being denied the right to education due to the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, others are forced to use filthy, dirty and unhygienic toilets at their schools.
"Some have refrained from using the toilets and are relieving themselves in the bushes instead."
Heywood lso claimed that "some girls take days off from school and stay at home when they are menstruating. They say there is no privacy at school toilets".
Heywood, who is also an Aids activist, said governments and multi-national companies had to be challenged to change the situation.
"We must make use of the law for the social advancement of all people.
"We must put pressure on governments and multi-nationals to ensure that the right to health for all people is achieved," he said.
He praised the Treatment Action Campaign for making sure that ever-increasing numbers of HIV-positive people got access to ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs).
"We now have universal access to medicine because of our struggle for access to ARVs," he said.
Abhay Shukla, a public health activist from India, said in the early 2000s many Indians had embarked on campaigns to ensure that they received free medicines.
Shukla also called on delegates to fight the privatisation of public health facilities in their various countries.
"In India, we successfully protested and opposed the privatisation of public health facilities and other public services," he said.
"It is also important for delegates to fight for accountability and improvement of health services in their countries."
Thai health activist and academic Churnrurtai Kanchanaitra said many people were unable to make policy decisions due to a lack of information and knowledge.
"Many people need to get knowledge and information in order to make informed decisions."
Kanchanaitra said they had convened a year-long National Health Assembly for the benefit of many locals in that country.