As many children start the new school term, parents and caregivers are encouraged to continue giving them the support they need to be healthy and thrive this year. Schools offer a unique opportunity to implement effective health services at scale and cover an important period for establishing essential healthy behaviours.
The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness reminds parents and caregivers of the free childhood immunisations, school health services, and mental health support available to their children.
“I wish every learner a healthy and bright start to their 2024 academic year. Every year our Department embarks on various initiatives such as immunisations and outreach health services at our schools in order to maximise the wellbeing of our school-going learners. This furthers our goal to build resilient communities, which requires all of us to work together so that learners can enjoy quality basic education. Let’s continue to be invigorated in this effort as health is truly everyone’s business,” says Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness.
Immunisations provide the best protection for children against many common but potentially serious illnesses. Over the past few years, fewer children are getting routine immunisations, putting them at risk of serious disease and leaving schools vulnerable to outbreaks.
If your child is up to date with their immunisation schedule, they will already be protected against diseases like whooping cough, measles, tetanus, and diphtheria throughout their school career, as most provide long-term immunity. Check your child’s Road to Health booklet or visit your nearest clinic to ensure they are up to date on all immunisations.
“Over the past few years, there was a concerning drop in routine immunisation among children in the various categories, while the uptake of the tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine at 6-and-12-years old remained extremely low. Please make time to ensure that your child’s immunisations are up to date. If you have any concerns about vaccine safety, please talk to a health care worker,” says Dr Hilary Goeiman, Director of Service Priorities Coordination at the Department.
From 6 February until 15 March 2024, 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. To date, two HPV injections, 5-6 months apart were administered to Grade 5 girls over the age of 10-years with the necessary consent.
“The HPV vaccine is an effective way to protect young girls from the highest risk HPV infections. That means they are much less likely to develop HPV-linked cancers. The vaccine is administered in the classroom at schools, making it simpler than ever to reduce your daughter’s risk of cancers caused by the virus,” says Sonia Botha, Coordinator of the Western Cape’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation.
School health services
Since young children are prone to many diseases, school health teams work with teachers, school governing bodies, parents and caregivers to make schools a healthy environment at both primary and secondary education levels. Where there is capacity, and with the necessary signed consent, health workers regularly assess a child’s eyesight, hearing, oral health, growth, and immunisation schedule.
They also assess if a child receives good nutrition, and screen for conditions of the skin, lice, scabies, and physical and mental health. Parents or caregivers can rest assured that school health teams will only administer health screenings and immunisations on children whose parental consent has been received.
Mental health support
Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (14%) children between the ages of 10 to 19-year-olds experience mental health challenges. Poor mental health can impact many areas of an adolescent’s life and we remind parents and caregivers that support is available. Adolescents can access mental healthcare at their 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.
Diarrhoea and pneumonia surge
The period between November and May, generally known as Paediatric Surge Season, coincides with an increase in diarrhoea and pneumonia cases. These conditions are the biggest health risks to young children and yet they can be treated and are often preventable. We continue to appeal to parents and caregivers to take advantage of services available to keep their children healthy and safe. Apart from handwashing, parents and caregivers are advised to regularly wash feeding bottles, bowls, spoons, and teats before feeding young children. Our healthcare facilities can diagnose and treat diarrhoea and a host of other illnesses affecting children.
“Diarrhoea is a highly infectious virus that thrives in hot weather. Children who are malnourished, have impaired immunity or those who have missed immunisations or Vitamin A supplementation are far more likely to contract diarrhoea and may develop complications as a result if not treated. We encourage parents and caregivers to ensure that their little one’s immunisations and vitamin A supplementation are up to date. If you’ve missed an immunisation or vitamin A supplementation dose, you can still visit your local clinic, remember to take along your child’s Road to Health booklet,” says Delray Fourie, Deputy Director for Comprehensive Health Services in the Northern and Tygerberg Substructure.
Teach good hygiene habits
Encouraging good hand-washing habits is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of infectious diseases. Diseases can spread when we do not wash hands, this can happen in adults and children. We need to prioritise keeping our hands clean and teach our littles one how to keep their hands clean to prevent the spread of germs and protect our health.
“Infection control is in your hands. Clean hands are the guardians of health by using correct hand hygiene methods you can destroy bacteria, viruses and fungi,” says Beatrice Groenewald, Clinical Programme Co-ordinator: Child Health in Overberg district.