South Africa is falling behind in reaching most of its targets for the United Nation's (UN's) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Current member of the World Health Organisation's guideline review committee Siobhan Crowley says that children are suffering the most as a result of the country's inability to meet the MDGs, specifically regarding education, health and poverty alleviation, and, therefore, need urgent attention.
At a TEDxChange event, held at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on Monday and focusing on the future of the MDGs, speakers addressed the major challenges facing the country in achieving the goals.
Opening the event, Osten Chulu, UN Development Programme Regional MDG Policy Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa, gave a brief introduction to the MDGs and provided perspective on how close South Africa was to reaching the targets in relation to the rest of the world.
Chulu painted a grim picture in that South Africa, and the rest of Africa, were falling behind in reaching the MDGs despite positive trends in the rest of the world. He cited the main problems as the 2008/9 financial crisis as it exacerbated the food security crisis, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, the acceleration of climate change meant that there was less access to food, which adversely affected poverty alleviation programmes.
The financial crisis also meant that development assistance for poor countries had slowed down as richer countries faced budget deficits and greater domestic challenges. This, however, was not the only reason for the reduction in development assistance. Chulu argued that many African countries have not upheld their commitments to good governance, which was a minimum requirement for development aid.
He added that the global trading system was inherently biased towards richer developed nations and had, subsequently, disadvantaged developing countries and hindered their development, thus reducing their ability to reach the targets set out by the MDGs.
South Africa's children
Crowley said that a child's development was shaped by the environment and, although the South Africa's laws are in the right place with regard to dealing with the protection of children, in practice, this was not always the case.
In the MDGs that directly affect children (ending poverty and hunger, improving child health, improving maternal health, combating HIV/Aids and improving access to water and sanitation), South Africa was faring poorly, which was a great cause for concern. Despite signs of decreasing, 11,9-million children currently live below the poverty line.
In terms of child health, child mortality had shown a slight decrease since 2000 but still remains high, with an average of nine babies dying every hour. It was also estimated that 80% of child deaths occurred under the age of five. These deaths were mainly driven by poverty and often related to HIV/Aids.
Despite having high access to health facilities, with nine out of ten births taking place within them, maternal mortality rates have been increasing dramatically since 1990. Again, there was a strong correlation between maternal mortality rates and HIV/Aids.
According to Crowley, one of the major concerns was the high prevalence of HIV/Aids in the country, which was severely affecting both child and maternal mortality rates. With 17% of people infected with HIV living in South Africa, this MDG remained one of the most challenging for the country.
Crowley presented possible recommendations on how the country could improve its position in meeting the MDGs, specifically with regard to childcare. Her recommendations revolved around the social determinants of health, and that improving general healthcare was a process that involved not just government, but civil society and communities.
Owing to the fact that the poor were most affected by a lack of access to healthcare, they needed to be prioritised. Further, the first 24 months after birth needed to be focused on as this was the age where children were most vulnerable to disease and infection.
With five years to go before the 2015 MDG target, both speakers conceded that reaching these targets seems far-fetched for South Africa, as well as the African continent as a whole.