Cullinan - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday officially launched the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP), which is premised on promoting good health and providing the necessary services to learners in some of the country's neediest schools.
Learners and staff at Chokoe Primary and Chipa Tabane Secondary schools in Refilwe, a township near the historical town of Cullinan, east of Pretoria, were amongst the first in the country to see the roll-out of the programme, which forms part of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.
Speaking at the launch, Zuma pointed out that only 16% of the population were currently on medical aid. Government sought to extend quality health services, particularly at school level, by introducing the ISHP, which is in line with the World Health Organisation's call for universal health coverage around the world, regardless of people's economic status.
Earlier this year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced the 10 districts identified for the piloting of the NHI, which seeks to heed the WHO's call of extending good health care to all.
The City of Tshwane, where the two launch schools are located, is one of the 10 districts in which the NHI is being piloted. Moreover, government has adopted a three-pillar approach to initiating the NHI - in schools, municipal wards and in districts.
On Thursday, government launched the first pillar - health care in schools.
The ISHP will deal with the problem of unhealthy diets and lifestyles; focus on promoting child mental health wellness; high rate of teenage pregnancies, which indicates a shortcoming in youth education, as well as the need to arrest the spread of HIV.
"Our new school health programme seeks to correct these challenges and offer a more comprehensive service. We want to prevent and deal with the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in our schools, working with the Basic Education, Health, Social Development and Police Departments.
"We will target each of the four educational phases - foundation, intermediate, senior and the further education and training phase," said Zuma.
In the early phases, services will cover environmental and personal hygiene, especially the importance of hand-washing, healthy eating, the promotion of physical exercise and safety. Health professionals will also check the ears, eyes, immunisation status and nutritional status of children.
In the intermediate phase, attention will be paid to mental health issues, including depression and suicide, as well as issues related to substance abuse. Information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as HIV/Aids will also be introduced.
Many departments have come together to provide various services, including the Department of Health, which will provide health care, and the Department of Social Development, which will assist learners who are found to be vulnerable and in need of care and support.
The Departments of Basic Education and Sports and Recreation will promote physical education and sports to ensure healthy lifestyles. Under the programme, Wednesday afternoons will become Magnificent Wednesdays, and will be set aside for school sports as well as establishing School Sport Leagues.
Zuma said that in due course, more services will be added and rolled out, especially in the NHI pilot districts, where services will be provided using the 30 mobile vehicles displayed during Thursday's launch.
"We currently do not have the resources to provide these services to learners in all grades and in all schools in the country.
"We have therefore chosen a phased approach and we will start with the no-fee schools, which include the most disadvantaged schools in the country that serve our poorest communities," Zuma said.
Health Minister Motsoaledi said the programme will allow them to provide primary health care at schools, which was a good way of ensuring children stayed healthy.
He said more than 500 health professionals had already been trained to deliver the school health programme.
The 30 mobile vehicles will be deployed in various provinces to provide health services at schools. Motsoaledi said they intended to add 90 more by end of next year.
Tshwane Executive Mayor Kgosi Ramokgopa thanked government for launching the programme in the area, which is peri-urban in nature and faces a high unemployment rate.
"Your visit reaffirms the commitment of this administration in advancing the interests of the poor. The programme aims to make sure that we have a well-rounded and developed child to address the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment," said Ramokgopa.