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SAHRC gives government deadline to address Eastern Cape malnutrition crisis

The South African Human Rights Commission has recommended a State of Disaster be declared in the Eastern Cape, where more than 100 children have died of malnutrition in under than a year, and where hundreds more have been admitted to hospital with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

A report launched by the SAHRC in East London last week provides shocking feedback on an inquiry started by the commission in August last year into malnutrition among the province’s children, reports News24.

It showed that 116 children died of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) between April 2021 and March 2022, while nearly 900 were admitted to hospitals across the province and 1 087 presented symptoms of SAM.

In a submission to the inquiry by Health Minister Joe Phaahla, SAM rose from 1.9 to 2.4 per 1 000 children under five from 2018/19 to 2022/23, with the Eastern Cape experiencing the most significant increase.

The rising SAM cases are believed to be exacerbated by Covid-19 and food price hikes.

The SAHRC’s report describes malnutrition in its various forms as “a slow violence”.

“The facts … reflect a dire situation. …Malnutrition and hunger are not only adversely affecting children in their growth and development, but they are losing their lives as a result of being hungry.”

Most of the deaths were in the OR Tambo District, where 22 children died and 202 were hospitalised, while Nelson Mandela Bay was second, with 16 deaths and 160 hospital admissions.

The SAHRC made several recommendations to address the hunger crisis, including the feasibility of increasing child support grants urgently to be above the food poverty line, and the declaration of a State of Disaster by the government, to enable co-ordinated efforts and resource allocations for immediate intervention.

The SAHRC also asked the national Education Department to collaborate with the Social Development Department to explore the expansion the National School Nutrition Programme at Early Childhood Development centres.

It has given national and provincial government departments three to six months to submit reports outlining their efforts to address child malnutrition in the province, concluding that that government’s failure to ensure access to adequate food and nutrition directly contributes to preventable loss of life of  Eastern Cape children.


News24 article – More than 100 children die of malnutrition in less than a year in Eastern Cape – SAHRC report (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


‘Rage and grief’ as children die of malnutrition, while govt punts NHI that’s likely to fail


SA’s malnutrition crisis: 15 000 hospitalised in 2022/23


Surging malnutrition data under-reported, say experts


DoH tells Parliament: Thousands of SA’s children have died of malnutrition







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