Government’s introduction of health services at schools that will protect learners from unhealthy diets and HIV, among others, has been praised by a range of organisations in the education community.
Launched recently by President Jacob Zuma, the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP) brings health services to learners in some of the country's neediest schools. It also deals with the problem of unhealthy diets and lifestyles; promotes child mental health wellness and ad- dresses the high rate of teenage pregnancies, as well as the need to stem the spread of HIV.
Quality health services
Speaking at the launch, President Zuma pointed out that only 16 per cent of the population were currently on medical aid. Government sought to extend quality health services, particularly at school level, by introducing the ISHP, which is in line with the World Health Organisation's call for universal health coverage around the world, regardless of people's economic status.
The programme has been widely welcomed. "We are pleased about the wide scope of services that will be provided at schools, as many learners are burdened by conditions, which if detected and treated at an early stage could easily be brought under control," said General Secretary of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa Henry Hendricks. National Teachers Union (NATU) Executive Director Allan Thompson agreed.
"NATU pledges full support and commitment to ensure that the programme becomes a success and is also extended to the general public by en- suring that schools are used as centres for public health and education, especially to those who are far from the clinics and hospitals," he said.
The early years
Professional Teachers Union's General Secretary, Ben Machipi, said childhood development was crucial in the formative stages up to six years of age.
"The fact that the programme starts with Early Childhood Development in schools and those who are not in schools, is encouraging," Machipi said.
South African Democratic Teachers Union General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said through its members at all levels, the union would always be available to offer any form of assistance in terms of the roll-out.
"We welcome this initiative, particularly the fact that the most vulnerable of learners ... will be targeted," he said.
The National Association of School Governing Bodies’ General Secretary, Matakanye Matakanye, said: "This move demonstrates an improvement in the capacity of the state to deliver services efficiently and effectively by moving more towards an inter-departmental collaborative effort."
The Secretary-General of the National Congress of School Governing Bodies, Monokoane Hlobo, added: "We are happy that this programme will cover the barriers to learning, information and counselling onsite service provision, health promotion and the environmental assessment of schools."
While noting that the challenge would be putting the plan into action, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools believed that the programme was a step in the right direction.
The South African Principals' Association also pledged its support for the programme, noting that school communities and society would become more conscious of matters relating to children's health and well-being.