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Local health workers believe in leaving no young children behind

TONGA – More than 100 community health workers in the area are part of the national Grow Great campaign to eliminate stunted growth in children by 2030. The campaign was recently launched at FNB’s Head Office in Sandton with a keynote address by South Africa’s First Lady, Dr Tshepo Motsepe. The Leave No Young Child Behind (LNYCB) initiative, which works in Nkomazi Wards 16 and 19, was chosen to be one of the pilot sites and several strategies were launched to rally the community to this cause. LNYCB and the Mpumalanga Department of Health are working together to make it a success.

According to Pam Picken, an early childhood development specialist attached to LNYCB, the health workers chose to become Champions for Children and received additional training and resources to focus on growth monitoring of young children and support pregnant moms and parents on nutrition, health care, love and support for young children. In addition, selected participants have become franchisees of the Flourish Social Franchise. They will facilitate ante-natal classes for pregnant mums and post-natal classes for mums and babies.

Picken explains that stunting is defined as a young child’s short height for age as compared to standardised growth charts. These charts can be found in the Department of Health’s Road to Health booklet, given to babies at birth in state health facilities. Stunting is caused by prolonged under nutrition and damages both physical and brain development, especially in the first thousand days of life – from the moment of conception until the child turns two.

According to Picken, stunting is such an important measure of damage to brain development, that stunting at age two is the single best predictor of whether or not a person will achieve their academic and economic potential as an adult! South Africa has very high rates of stunting- much higher than other comparable countries and even some of our neighbours. Around 27 percent or at least one in four of children under five is stunted.

On average, stunted children do poorly at school, are unlikely to get to matric or attend tertiary education and are more likely to join the ranks of the unemployed and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. They are also at higher risk of getting diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Picken states that stunting is entirely preventable and urges parents to take care during a child’s first 1 000 days of life. Pregnant women and babies need enough, good nutritious food. For babies this means only breastmilk for the first six months of life, and then the introduction of nutritious solid food – including eggs.They also need high-quality healthcare, responsive love and care, and a safe and healthy environment to flourish and grow great. For more information on Grow Great, visit www.growgreat.co.za.

The weekly Love, Play, Talk radio programme on Nkomazi FM also provides parents of young children advice on early childhood development. It airs every Thursday from 11:00 to 11:30 and features a guest speaker that tackles different topics. The programme is sponsored by Ilifa Labantwana and is part of the LNYCB initiative, which RCL Foods sponsors.

Visit www.nkomazifm.co.za or www.ilifalabantwana.co.za to find out more.

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