For a healthy tomorrow

2014-08-07 00:00

OVER the past few weeks, newspapers published articles regarding the use of Implanon contraceptive by students who have been selected to study pharmacy and ultra-sonography in India.

The MEC for Health Dr Sbongiseni Dhlomo has correctly refuted allegations that suggested that government had forcefully injected students with Implanon. We reiterate the point that students were given information and encouraged to take some form of conceptive, including Implanon.

In fact, our Constitution guarantees access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.

Without finger-pointing, I must state that I have been personally encouraged by the interest that has been shown by the people of this province regarding the reproductive health of these students.

Such an interest needs to be sustained because young people hold the key to the future but unfortunately, as they grow, they are increasingly exposed to reproductive health risks such as sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.

These risks do not only hamper their education but minimise their chances of participating meaningfully in the reconstruction and redevelopment of this country. Teenage and unplanned pregnancy among young people is at the root of a number of social challenges we are facing.

While the debate on the use of Implanon is currently under way, it is important not to lose sight of why we sent students to study at Manipal University. India has remained our partner during the most difficult period in our history. India through the force of inspiration shared its colonial oppression and made our desire for a free democratic dispensation even stronger.

Our focus therefore today is no longer about political liberation but about socioeconomic development. We are deepening the friendship between the two countries through exchange programmes focusing on economic and skills development.

Statistics show that India has approximately 484 million skilled people between the age groups 18 and 58. The country will be home to 700 million people of working age by 2020 and has set an ambitious plan to reach a target of developing new skills in 500 million people by 2022.

My view is that this province will benefit immensely from India’s skills development programme. The provincial government is fully aware of the importance of education and it is for these reasons that we have begun the process of establishing long-term partnership with Manipal Group from India.

On November 13, 2013, the Provincial Executive Council endorsed the proposed establishment of a medical higher education institution and training hospital here in this province in partnership with the Manipal Group.

Just as the 19th century is remembered as the century of industrial revolution and the 20th century known as the century of information technology and communications, I believe the 21st century will be a century of healing. This healing will be spearheaded by this envisaged medical institution.

We want KZN to produce the best, healthcare professionals, scientists and clinicians. The government has identified the health status of the people of this province as a priority, particularly because of the deteriorating health outcomes, largely as a result of increasing burden of disease creating a strain on the health services.

This institution will therefore be a symbol of light and ensure improved health status of the people of KwaZulu-Natal. It must be stated very clearly that, the African National Congress, as a ruling party, has the responsibility to ensure that barriers to access to quality healthcare for all are removed.

It is for this reason that the ANC is moving with speed to roll out National Health Insurance (NHI) as a vehicle to achieve this goal. This province has been piloting the NHI over the past two years. The experience that we have acquired points to a need for more qualified health professionals, including pharmacists.

Pharmacists are very critical in ensuring a successful implementation of NHI. Upon their return, we expect the students to have a good understanding of the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of drugs. The technical knowledge they will acquire in India will enable these students to deliver quality healthcare to our people.

In this province we also need ultra-sonographers who can make diagnosing patients quicker and more accurate. Apart from working in various public health institutions upon their return, the students will act as champions of health education by being at the forefront of health-awareness campaigns.

While it is true that the prospects for health of the average citizen in KZN (life expectancy) have improved, there nevertheless remains a major challenge of “health illiteracy”.

Various forms of preventable diseases continue to undermine the health and quality of life of many people in KwaZulu-Natal as a result of health illiteracy. Many people do not have the skills required to obtain, understand and act on health information and services. Nor do they have the ability to make appropriate health decisions on their own.

Those who endure the greatest struggles with low health literacy skills are most often older adults and people with lower levels of education. The implications for these more vulnerable groups is that limited health literacy often correlates with a lack of ability to effectively self-manage health, access health services, understand available and relevant information, and make informed health-related decisions.

Taking advantage of the health illiteracy, many people who masquerade as traditional healers, pharmacists and doctors are marketing and advertising medicines to unsuspecting people using the mass media. Those who are often targeted are those suffering from chronic diseases — cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and respiratory disease.

Given that chronic ill-health is the leading cause of death in South Africa, the positive health and lifestyle implications for health literacy are potentially far-reaching. To be health literate is to be able to access and understand the information required to manage one’s health on a day-to-day basis.

Ideally, a health-literate individual is able to seek and assess the health information required to understand and carry out instructions for self-care, including the administering of complex daily medical regimens.

We have a vision of ensuring that KZN becomes prosperous province with a healthy, secure and skilled population, acting as a gateway to Africa and the World. We can only achieve this vision if we aggressively embark on a skills revolution. There is no turning back.

• Senzo Mchunu is the premier and chairperson of the KZN Aids Council.

FROM LEFT: Health portfolio chairperson Lizzie Shabalala, acting consul-general of India Harsh V.S. Negi, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu, first lady and mayor of uThungulu District Municipality Thembeka Mchunu, Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and the 30 students who will be studying at the Manipal University in India.

PHOTO: Reinhardt Hartzenberg

Just as the

19th century is remembered as the century of industrial revolution and the 20th century known as the century of information technology and communications, I believe the 21st century will be a century of healing.

Forging ahead for a healthy tomorrow

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