Monday 19th Nov 2018

Address by Dr Tshepo Motsepe at the launch of the Grow Great Zero-Stunting Child Health Campaign - 

Programme Director
Executive Director of Grow Great, Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso
Leadership of Grow Great
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
Allow me to thank you deeply for inviting me to be part of this launch of a campaign that will indeed help our nation grow both in physical stature and socio-economic development.
 
I am honoured to share this occasion with South Africans from all walks of life and from all backgrounds who have chosen the critical challenge of stunting as a domain from which we hope to move South Africa forward.

Our country faces many challenges and sometimes we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to start.
 
Today, we are gathered here as South Africans who know where to start, and that is with our most valuable national asset – our children.
 
This launch, taking place just two days before the President of the Republic opens the Presidential Health Summit just a stone’s throw from here, could not have come at a better time.
 
I hope that participants at this weekend’s Summit will devote some time to reflecting on the realities that have made a campaign such as this necessary in our society. More importantly, it is my hope – and I am sure yours as well – that the Summit will provide solutions on how we can stunt stunting in the lives of our children.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
The Grow Great campaign we are launching today is one that seeks to mobilise South Africans from all walks of life to work together and speak with one voice towards the achievement of zero-stunting by 2030.

The choice of 2030 as the year by which zero-stunting must have been achieved is a strategic one.
 
This is because it reminds all of us – including government – to realise the vision that is articulated in our National Development Plan to erode the socio-economic conditions that lead to stunting.
 
The Grow Great campaign is important at many levels and must be welcomed for many reasons.

Foremost among these is the fact that the campaign tells us that stunting is not an inevitable natural phenomenon divinely predestined for some children on their paths of development.
 
The campaign tells us stunting is merely a disapproving reaction and response of nature to the uneven, unequal and unjust socio-economic conditions under which millions of our compatriots strive to survive.

We are reminded today that maternal nutrition and infection are among the leading causes of stunting in children.
 
In this regard, the Grow Great campaign seeks to engrave in our collective conscience as a nation our responsibility to empower women, especially, who are vulnerable both in terms of knowledge and economic status.
 
We have to wage a relentless war against ignorance; we have to teach South Africans, female and male, about the basics of pregnancy and the nutritional needs of the foetus; and we have to practically assert our people’s right to a clean environment that is not a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
 
South Africans need to know as well that teenage motherhood and short birth intervals can also stunt the growth of children and make them never to reach their full growth potential mentally and physically.
 
This means that our teenagers, both female and male, must be discouraged from early indulgence in sexual activity, especially of an unprotected nature.
 
However, we must appreciate that merely discouraging our teenage children from engaging in sex will not work unless we provide them with alternatives that will enrich their lives and enhance their life chances.

We have to make our children more interested in education, sports, arts and culture.
 
If we don’t provide the resources and options that will allow them to lead lives of meaning, fulfillment and happiness, they will view sexual activity as a pastime, without realising the physical, emotional or financial consequences of premature indulgence.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
At an estimated prevalence rate of 27% among South African children under the age of five, stunting is a national challenge.

If our children are stunted, the future of our nation is stunted.

Victims of stunting are most likely to contend with lifelong cognitive defects and to struggle at school or at places of work if they were to be employed. They are also susceptible to chronic diseases as adults and susceptible to becoming conduits of poverty from one generation to the next.
 
We simply cannot continue on this path. We need to change things urgently. And the Grow Great campaign is therefore a key to a better future.
 
We have to ask ourselves deep and uncomfortable questions about our unequal society that stunts the growth of some children owing to nothing else other than the socio-economic status of their parents.

Chronic nutritional deprivation, repeated infections and poor psychosocial stimulation – which all lead to stunting – cannot be understood outside the context poverty and inequality.
 
We have to deal with these realities if we are to achieve zero-stunting by 2030. And yet in the meantime we have to take the practical steps on which the Grow Great campaign is anchored.
 
We must support the many mothers and primary care givers who are not aware of the impact of maternal health, exclusive breastfeeding, hygiene and nutrition on the development of a young child’s brain.

There ought to be behaviour change interventions that provide education, counselling and support services to the most needy mothers.
 
If we are to achieve zero-stunting by 2030, we must make better use of our committed Community Healthcare Workers as the people closest to the households that may be vulnerable.

The intervention of Community Healthcare Workers can make a significant impact on child nutrition especially in the first 1 000 days from birth.
 
Another very important step that must be taken is exclusive breastfeeding at least for the first six months of a baby’s life.
 
We must break down barriers including community perceptions and beliefs, limited breastfeeding education, employers and employment spaces that do not enable breastfeeding, the perceived sophistication associated with formula feeding and the stigma associated with public breastfeeding.
 
And on this latter point, I often wonder, if adults can eat and enjoy their meals in public, why can’t babies do the same?
 
Programme Director 
 
No one can disagree that the issue of nutrition in the first one thousand days of a child’s life is extremely critical to the growth and future of such a child.
 
It is what we do or do not do in these first one thousand days that can set the child on the path either of success or failure, good health or chronic ill health.
 
The Grow Great campaign gives us a platform from which we can end the intergenerational cycles of deprivation driven by stunting.
 
Let us work on facilitating access to antenatal and postnatal classes that ignite and empower mothers to modify risky behaviours.
 
We must train and reskill our Community Healthcare Workers into becoming ‘Champions for Children’ who ensure that at risk children receive the support they require.
 
We must normalise exclusive breastfeeding and promote healthy weaning practices. And lastly, we must enable national conversations for change on stunting through high-quality data.
 
This is a campaign that must take hold in all sectors of our society and all corners of our country.
 
This is an initiative that requires the participation of South Africans who live lives of abundance, and of South Africans who live lives of need.

This is an initiative that embraces all South Africans, black and white, urban and rural.
 
It is a campaign we must talk about and act on in our homes, in our streets, in our classrooms, in corporate boardrooms, in churches, in our political formations, in our malls and shisa nyama, and also in our taverns.
 
We must stunt stunting wherever we can.

And when we do, we will ensure that Grow Great will indeed grow great itself and become a social movement that will transform our society.

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