Back To School - help your child to stay healthy and learn
Children across the Province have started their new school year this week. It is important to ensure that your child stays healthy this year so that they can learn and thrive.
We want to remind parents and caregivers that we want to join them on this journey by providing free childhood immunisations, school health services, and mental health support.
An essential part of keeping your child healthy is staying up to date with their childhood immunisations. Immunisation saves millions of lives every year and is one of the world’s most successful health interventions. Immunisations protect children against illness such as measles, tetanus, TB, diphtheria (which affects the lungs), leprosy, whooping cough, Hepatitis B, and polio. These are all very dangerous diseases that can lead to permanent disability and even death.
"Though our measles numbers in the Western Cape are quite small, parents should be vigilant and make sure that their children's measles immunisations are up to date according to the immunisation schedule in their Road to Health booklet," advises Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness.
We urge all parents and caregivers to get their children immunised for free at their nearest clinic or community healthcare centre. Between 6 and 17 February 2023, the Western Cape Department of Health will be providing one measles booster immunisation for every child under the age of five. We want to emphasise the importance for parents to take up this opportunity to provide extra protection to their children.
Children who are 12 years or older can also be vaccinated against COVID-19. It is safe and available for free at your nearest clinic or vaccination site in your community To find a vaccination site near you, visit: https://coronavirus.westerncape.gov.za/vaccine/latest-vaccination-sites.
From 20 February until 31 March 2023, our school health teams will be visiting public- and special schools to administer the first dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and the tetanus and diphtheria (Td - Diftavax) booster for free.
The HPV vaccine is part of the Integrated School Health Programme. Two HPV injections, 5-6 months apart is administered to Grade 5 girls over the age of 9-years with the necessary consent.
It is estimated that approximately 80% of women will be infected with the HPV in their life. The virus is responsible for 99% of all cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccination is most effective if administered before exposure to the virus (before puberty and becoming sexually active) when immune system is able to provide a stronger antibody response. The vaccine is a safe and a preventative precaution to cervical cancer.
School health services
School health teams work with teachers, students, and parents to make schools a healthy environment. “With parental or caregiver consent, we assess the child’s health by conducting eyesight and hearing screening, oral health screening and education, health promotion, immunisation and vaccinations, monitor growth, and fine motor skills, and assess if the child is receiving good nutrition, treat skin conditions, treat lice and scabies, conduct mental health assessments, a full physical examination for children in Grade R to 12,” explains Sr Valerie Kruger, School Health Nurse for Mitchells Plain Community Health Centre and Chairperson of the Health Promoting Schools in the Western Cape Metropole.
Parents can rest assured that their consent is required for the school health nurses to conduct any screening on their child and through the school, will issue a consent form to administer any immunisations or treatment.
Mental health support
Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (14%) 10- to 19-year-olds experience mental health challenges. Dr Estelle Lawrence, from the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness, says poor mental health can impact many areas of an adolescent’s life and urges teenagers and parents to get support if necessary.
“Parents need to work at building strong relationships with their teenager. Please talk about mental health, ask what’s wrong and offer support if your child feels sad, anxious, depressed, or appears to be struggling. Studies have shown that if adolescents feel connected to their family, school and community, they are less likely to struggle with poor mental health, substance abuse and violence. They need to know someone cares about them,” says Dr Lawrence.
Adolescents can access mental healthcare at their nearest clinic where a trained health practitioner will provide support or refer them to a mental health practitioner. They can also dial Childline at 116 for telephonic support.
Annually November to March marks a spike in children treated for diarrhoeal disease. We advise adults to be extra watchful over children. Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital’s Associate Professor Heloise Buys (Head of Clinical Unit Ambulatory & Emergency) says young children are more dependent on their caregivers and parents to ensure they take in enough fluids. “They often don’t verbalise that they are thirsty. Also, because they are so much smaller than adults, losing a small amount of fluid in their watery stools is a big deal. They more easily become dehydrated or go into shock,” says Buys.
“Take the sign of the first loose stool seriously and immediately start with ‘replacement Oral Rehydration Solution’,” says Buys. You can make the solution at home: Boil a litre of water and let it cool down. Add to the water eight teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. Give the child small sips of the solution. Continue feeding the child.
Sr Gale Goeieman of Tulbagh Clinic agrees on the importance of quickly acting to avoid dehydration. “If giving the oral dehydration solution does not work and the child is still not taking in fluids or vomiting all fluids they do drink, please come to clinic immediately so that we can help to prevent severe dehydration,” says Goeieman.