For years many in South Africa have known that integration between government services has been a major need for effective service delivery. The right to health especially for many children has been thwarted by a severe lack of coordination within the public sector. It is this need that has brought about the brand new Integrated School Health Policy, launched on the 11th of October by President Zuma, aptly on the International Day of the Girl child.
The Policy looks at the holistic health of the child, within the education setting.
“This policy focuses on addressing both the immediate health problems of learners (including those that constitute barriers to learning) as well as implementing interventions that can promote their health and well-being during both childhood and adulthood. In 2012, more than twelve million learners were enrolled in public schools in South Africa. Whilst provision of school health services will initially focus on ensuring that services are provided to learners in the most disadvantaged schools, ensuring that coverage is progressively extended to all schools and learners will remain a priority.” Integrated School Health Policy, 2012
Below are the key changes as mentioned in the policy:
The new Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP) aims to build on and strengthen existing school health services, albeit with some important changes. These include:
• A commitment to close collaboration between all role-players, with the Departments of Health (DOH), Basic Education(DBE) and Social Development (DSD) taking joint responsibility for ensuring that the ISHP reaches all learners in all schools.
• Provision of services to learners in all educational phases. These include the foundation phase (Grades R-3); the intermediate phase (Grades 4-6); the senior phase (Grades 7-9); and the Further Education and Training (FET) phase (Grades 10-12).
• Provision of a more comprehensive package of services, which addresses not only barriers to learning, but also other conditions which contribute to morbidity and mortality amongst learners during both childhood and adulthood.
• More emphasis being placed on provision of health services (as opposed to screening and referral) in schools, with a commitment to expanding the range of services provided over time. Mechanisms for ensuring that learners who are assessed as requiring additional services receive these services need to be in place.
• A more systematic approach to implementation. The phased approach (as outlined in the 2003 School Health Policy) which focused on district level implementation, did not translate into adequate coverage at sub-district, school and learner levels. Although the ISHP will initially target the most disadvantaged schools, sequenced plans for progressive implementation aim to ensure that all learners are reached.
• Implemented within the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning Framework that is currently being used by the DBE to cohere all care and support initiatives implemented in and through schools including school health services.
Specific objectives of the plan include providing preventative and promotive services that address the health needs of school going children and youth with regard to both their immediate and future health, supporting and facilitating learning through identifying and addressing health barriers to learning, facilitating access to health and other services where required and to support the school community in creating a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning.
We welcome this new effort by government to significantly attempt to put children first, as we have have pledged as a country in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is indeed true as the Policy states that “in order for learners to achieve their potential, they must be healthy, attentive and emotionally secure.” This will require the input of both government and civil society as we protect the pivotal rights of all children in South Africa to be healthy and educated.