Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says it's time that the country focuses on family planning programmes to reduce the scourge of maternal and child mortality. The minister was speaking at the opening of a new health facility whose primary purpose is child and maternal health.
Shandukani, a Vende word meaning change, is a newly renovated building right in the heart of Hillbrow one of the most densely populated areas of Johannesburg. The world class facility's key aim is to provide quality health care to mothers and their children. According to Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa is the only country in the world where child and maternal mortality rates are on the rise.
Shandukani offers a comprehensive health care package, including family planning programmes. Minister Motsoaledi has stressed the importance of family planning in improving maternal and child health outcomes.
"I'm very excited about this because evidence shows that we need such a service. It does not only prevent unwanted pregnancies. It also reduces the number of abortions - both legal and illegal. And I can assure you, as the Minister of Health... They are on the rise. Between 1997 and 2008, 950 000 abortions were committed legally in our health institutions. Family planning also decreases infant and maternal mortality, and we believe that without very good family planning facilities in a country, the likelihood of achieving the Millennium Development Goals number 4 and 5 will be very difficult".
Dr Motsoaledi says a proper family planning programme will help elevate the economy. He says it can't be possible that South Africa be the only country not achieving its maternal and child health outcomes.
"Over and above everything else, family planning contributes to poverty reduction; it contributes to economy and to development. We need to reduce maternal and child mortality. We can't be a country at this level of development but still be counted among the many countries where maternal and child mortality is on the rise. So, we need to do everything in our power to reduce this and we are happy that Shandukani is at the centre of all that", says Dr Motsoaledi.
Executive Director at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Helen Rees, says this is exactly what the centre aims to achieve.
"If women can gain access to contraceptive tools then they can decide for themselves if they get pregnant and when they want to get pregnant.
They can space their children, which is enormously important for the well-being of children. This is an area we've lost focus on since 1994. There has been attention on HIV and TB. But now we want to draw a resurgence of interest in this area and, certainly, Shandukani will be a centre where we look at this and re-developing excellent family planning services".
Due to the location of Shandukani, Professor Rees says they hope to reach out to hundreds more women and children in the inner city.
"The inner city has a very dense population. We don't know how many people actually live here. But, what usually happens is when you offer very excellent services; people will seek out these services. We already are looking at about 300 deliveries per month. So, we would want to respond and offer sympathetic, supportive and clinically excellent services to women and their children and families", says Professor Rees.
In its second week in operation, Shandukani has delivered an estimated 25 babies per day. It boasts a dedicated staff of 25 midwives, with five working per shift and an obstetrician is due to start working with the midwives soon.