Some things are getting better for SA children, even if the improvements are slight: Stats SA

In many key areas, things are getting better for SA's under-5s, a Stats SA report released on Monday shows

29 March 2021 - 18:19
By Ernest Mabuza
There was a national decrease in children with low birth weight and over half of the children born between 2014 and 2018 were exclusively breastfed. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/yarruta There was a national decrease in children with low birth weight and over half of the children born between 2014 and 2018 were exclusively breastfed. Stock photo.

In many key areas, things are getting better for SA's under-5s, a Stats SA report released on Monday shows.

For instance, there was a decrease across the country in the number of children with a low birth weight, and more than half of the children born between 2014 and 2018 were exclusively breastfed.

These findings are contained in the Stats SA report, “Trends in Selected Health Indicators Regarding Children Under 5 Years in SA”, which is based on five-year trend information from various internal and external sources, and covers a number of selected health and socio-economic indicators.

These include low birth weight, breastfeeding status, vaccination, infant mortality and access to safe drinking water.

When it came to the latter issue, the Stats SA figures showed there was no significant improvement in the percentage of households with access to safe drinking water between 2014 and 2018. However, the figures for access were mostly high.

In all except one province, 90% of households with children under five years reported they had safe drinking water. That exception was the Eastern Cape, where the percentages were 70% or less for each of the years in the study.

The report found that nationally there was a steady increase in households with improved sanitation.

Limpopo had fewer than 60% of households that reported improved sanitation, while the Western Cape and Gauteng had 90% or more households that reported improved sanitation.

Breastfeeding & vaccinations

Information on breastfeeding showed that half of the country's children born in the five-year period had been exclusively breastfed.

Stats SA, quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “Breastfeeding is an unmatched way of providing infants with ideal food for enhancing some healthy growth and development.”

It said that in 2014, the Free State had the highest proportion (84.2%) of infants who were exclusively breastfed, followed by the North West (61.3%).

The report found that the proportion of children vaccinated in the country was above 60% in all provinces between 2014 and 2018.

“Provinces such as the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, North West, and Limpopo have never reached the target of 90% coverage as outlined by the WHO, while Gauteng had the highest (96.4%).

“The Eastern Cape had the lowest coverage of 70% when compared to other provinces in 2014,” Stats SA said.

Low birth weight & teenage pregnancy

The report also said there was a national decrease in children with low birth weight — less than 2.5kg. The only exception was in the Northern Cape.

The country recorded a 0.2 percentage point decrease to 12.9% in children born weighing less than 2.5kg in 2018, compared to 13.1% in 2014.

Figures showed the Northern Cape had the highest proportion of live births born weighing less than 2.5kg within the reporting years, constantly reporting figures above 18%.

The WHO states that low birth weight is a vital public health indicator, and Stats SA said there were several contributing factors to low birth weight, such as teenage pregnancy and the health status of the mother, just to mention a few.

Quoting another study, Stats SA said early child-bearing, particularly by teenagers and young women who have not completed school, had a significant impact on the educational outcomes of both the mother and child, and is also associated with poorer child health and nutritional outcomes.

Data on causes of death highlighted that the leading natural cause of death between 2015 to 2017 for children under five was respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.

Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke said it was anticipated that information in this report will assist policymakers in dealing with issues that improve the wellbeing and health of children.

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