Importance of protecting your child’s health post COVID-19
Child Safety Month is commemorated in August every year. While the month has been earmarked for Child Safety Month, healthcare workers have called on parents and caregivers to prioritise their child’s safety every day.
One of the greatest focus areas in addressing child safety is raising awareness around the preventative measures that parents can take to protect their children, including promoting better health and immunity for children. In the aftermath of COVID-19, paediatric healthcare workers across the Western Cape have noted that the last few months have been one of the busiest paediatric surge seasons to date.
“Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) have dominated the stage with gastroenteritis also being important but not as many cases as the LRTI's,” shares Dr Ben Van Stormbroek, head of Paediatrics at Victoria Hospital, Wynberg.
He adds that malnutrition remains a major problem and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Paediatric surge seasons (PSS) happen every year from November to May, but during COVID-19 had been quieter as children were not transmitting viruses and bacteria to each other due to lockdowns and closed schools. “What we have noted is that there is an immune gap, that is, children have not been exposed as much for two years and have not built up their immunity and therefore many are requiring admission with nasty respiratory tract infections. In addition, we are seeing the socio-economic impact playing out with malnutrition in children being a major concern.”
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES TO BOOST YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH AND IMMUNITY
There are many ways that parents can protect and boost their child’s immunity. These steps include:
1. Breastfeeding your baby: Breastfeeding exclusively if you can, attending all check-up appointments for children to receive their immunisations, and ensuring proper growth monitoring and development at your nearest health clinic all play an important role in ensuring optimal health. Dr Van Stormbroek says that breastmilk plays an important role in protecting young children and providing them with antibodies to fight disease. “Breastfeeding decreases deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia of children under the age of five.”
Sinetemba Dyani, mother of three-month-old Liyahluma, believes that breastfeeding makes all the difference. “I encourage all mothers as far as possible, to breastfeed for the health of their baby. If you struggle to breastfeed or have questions, you can ask the nurse at your clinic. They helped me to breastfeed my baby.”
2. Preventing exposure to smoke: Parents and caregivers also play an important role in preventing pneumonia by making sure babies and young children are not exposed to cigarette smoke or indoor fires. Cigarette smoking not only affects children but also affects the growth and health of babies still in the womb.
3. Knowing the signs of pneumonia: It is vital that parents and caregivers are aware of the signs of pneumonia, as infections can spread easily in high-occupation households. These include difficulty in breathing, fast breathing, or chest “in-drawing”. It is important that caregivers are aware that pneumonia is preventable. One of the preventive measures is to ensure that babies are given breastmilk only for the first six months. After being introduced to solid foods, breastfeeding should continue until two years of age.
4. Keeping clinic visits up to date: We encourage all mothers with babies visit their local clinic at least once a month so that the primary health care nurses can check the growth and development of the baby; administer immunisations that will protect the baby against the main causes of pneumonia, give vitamin A which protects especially against diarrhoea and other infections; give deworming medication; and provide any needed counselling and advise mothers on nutrition. Babies who need additional care will be referred to the correct facility.
Where teams have noted that there has been low attendance by the community to child health services, immunization outreach programmes are hosted over the weekend or through wellness clubs within the community, to provide greater access. Sr Jacqueline Rossouw shares, “The immunisation outreach programmes are hosted to raise awareness in the community around the importance of immunisations. Our mission is to have more mothers attend the clinics so that we can build the immunity of the babies to fight any sickness. A healthy baby is a happy baby!”
Western Cape Government Health is committed to working hand in hand with the community members to ensure that we provide greater access to care and empower parents to understand how to respond and take action when there is a cause of concern regarding a child’s health. Remember, However, Western Cape Government Health and City of Cape Town clinics offer free vaccinations to protect your children. If you have questions or need to get your child’s immunisation schedule up to date, speak to a healthcare worker.
Click here to download the full periodic programme for immunisations. To see list of our healthcare facilities to get your child immunised, visit https://www.westerncape.gov.za/dept/health/facilities/944