StatsSA's recent shocking revelations about the plight of the poorest don't reflect the cost to children, which is even greater than the stats suggest, a Minister's question showed.
DA MP Karen Jooste asked the Minister about the financial costs associated with treating children who were admitted to hospital for severe acute malnutrition. She asked for information for four financial years since 2013/14 and the figures are staggering. Previously, Jooste had also asked how many admissions and deaths had been recorded in provincial hospitals due to severe acute malnutrition.
Jooste labelled the answer from the Minister as an indictment on our 23 years of democracy and government policy.
In his answer, the Minister revealed that between 2013/14 and 2016/17 more than 61,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition with a price tag of more than R2 billion over the four years. This means an estimated R500m was spent on treating more than 14,000 children each year over these four years. The estimated average financial cost per child is R65,826, he said and these children are hospitalised for about 30 days.
Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development.
In answer to the earlier question from Jooste, regarding admissions and deaths of children younger than five years between 2103/14 and 2015/16, the Minister revealed a death rate of 10.5% for the 46,294 children admitted in provincial hospitals over this period. This means about four of the 40 children admitted to these hospitals per day die due to severe acute malnutrition.
StatsSA's report showed that more than half (30 million) of South Africa's population is living in poverty and the majority of them are children. This is despite government's undertaking in the National Development Plan to reduce poverty-induced hunger to 0% by 2030.
The report shows how much ground still needs to be covered, with poverty-induced hunger levels at 25.2% in 2015 - up from 21.4% in 2011. In the report, growing up in poverty is seen to be one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development. The Minister of Health's answers to these recent parliamentary questions bear this out, and raise important questions about policy priorities.
StatsSa in its report made reference to the NDP goals: "The measurement of food insecurity can provide some useful information about the economic and social situations that may lead to hunger. Insecurity happens when people do not have sustainable physical or economic access to enough nutritious and socially acceptable food for a healthy and productive life.
"Malnutrition causes high rates of diseases and mortality, and also limits the development of children. Low energy intakes can reduce productivity, creating a malicious cycle in which poor workers are unable to make enough income to obtain adequate calories to be productive. Thus, hunger can constrain the country's ability to develop economically and can cause social and political instability."
Against this background, Jooste is calling for Child Support Grants to be doubled. "If we do not get the investment into child development right in the first 1,000 days of a child's life, it will not matter how much you invest in other priorities like basic education because the damage will be done. These children will reach schools already at a disadvantage since a person's health profile is said to be consolidated in their first two years of life."
Jooste said given the rising costs of food, it is critical to align the Child Support Grant with the basic nutritional needs of children.