As the province’s sweltering weather and drought continues, the City of Cape Town’s health department is working tirelessly to curb child mortality from diarrhoea and pneumonia, with incidences of these illnesses normally occurring between November and May annually.
The period is referred to as Surge Season, as the warmer weather promotes the spread of germs.
And with the current drought crisis, City Health is drastically increasing efforts to ensure that residents are aware of how to maintain the necessary health and hygiene practices despite the ongoing water restrictions.
On Thursday January 25, the City launched its city-wide campaign, at the Khayelitsha Mall. The campaign focused on maintaining good health and hygienic practices during the drought.
JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security; and social services, said diarrhoea was caused by severe gastroenteritis. He said he was happy that the City made some inroads against the illness.
He said last year the City lost 20 children to diarrhoea compared to 170 in 2010.
The campaign targeted health facilities, food vendors, schools and Early Childhood Development centres.
“This is the hottest season and we want to avoid any deaths. For children it can be fatal. We have brought all the health departments to educate our people. Nurses are here to deal with all the questions on immunisation and others. We brought in the library to explain to people how reading can keep them healthy,” he said.
During the campaign, environmental health practitioners stressed key areas for food safety and gave tips on the use of squeeze bottles.
Nurses also ensured that children under five years were up to date with their immunisations, dewormed and received vitamin A supplements. Dehydrated children received priority treatment to prevent disease progression.
Mr Smith added that the water crisis brought an added challenge to this year’s City Health Surge Season campaign.
He said the peak of incidents of diarrhoea occur between February and April, and shortly after that there is a surge in pneumonia.
“The City is acutely aware of the potential health implications that a lack of water can have on health and hygiene practices. The campaign that launched today is aimed at creating awareness of which critical hygiene practices need to be observed despite the drought,” said Mr Smith.
He said the prevention of water- and food-borne diseases required strict levels of hygiene. He said when diarrhoea develops, residents must be aware of the danger signs and what to do.
“Now more than ever before, we need to be sticklers about hand washing, washing fruit and vegetables and cleaning food preparation surfaces. Food-borne diseases that occur due to cross contamination do not have to become more prevalent if the proper levels of hygiene are maintained,” he said.
Mr Smith encouraged parents to take their children to the clinics regularly.
Doctor Virginia Azevedo, the City Health manager in Khayelitsha, said it was good to see how various departments and directorates can co-operate to improve the health and well-being of residents. “As you see there are nurses and librarians and many other departments to bring much-needed awareness to our people,” she said. “The concept of the squeeze bottle and how to use it when washing hands should be celebrated. The squeeze bottle is easy to do and it saves more water that you can also recycle. We have to deal with diarrhoea and other disease first-hand,” she said.
Residents Nomonde Tobi applauded the City for bringing services to the people of Khayelitsha. She said it was long overdue. “This is my first experience to see so many departments in an open space. This needs to be applauded and commended. May they continue such good work,” she said.