Global CEO of Unilever: Mr. Paul Polman
Executive Vice President of Unilever South Africa: Mr. Luc-Olivier Marquet.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Programme Director; it gives me a great pleasure to speak at this august occasion, namely the launch of the National School Hygiene Programme. We certainly believe that the health of our children is intrinsically linked to the improved learner outcomes. In fact, as Mahatma Gandhi once put it:
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
In this regard, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) approved the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) framework which has two flagship programmes, namely the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP). We conceptualised these as joint initiatives with Departments Health and Social Development.
The Nutrition Programme alone has positively changed the landscape in terms of access to nutritious meals every school day and improved school attendance and alertness. The Programme currently reaches over nine million children every schooling day.
This launch today of the National School Hygiene Programme comes hot on the heels of another game changer, the universal roll-out of National Deworming Programme throughout the public schooling environment. The deworming project is part and parcel of the Integrated School Health Programme. These two programmes namely the deworming initiative and launch of the National School Hygiene Programme are interlinked.
Programme Director, the health, social and educational consequences of poor hygiene is well established.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
poor hygiene and sanitation facilities are a barrier to retention of learners in school. Diarrhea and respiratory tract infections are associated with poor hygiene and are contributing to child mortality. However, improved sanitation and hygiene in schools at a global level has been linked to improvements in children’s educational performance, reduction in absenteeism, especially for girls, and improved retention rates amongst teachers (UNICEF, 2009).
Writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health: the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) researchers Ashish Joshi and Chioma Amadi provide conclusive empirical evidence that suggest that the global burden of disease and mortality rates amongst [school-going age] could be reduced by about 9.1% and 6.3%, respectively, if rapid success is attained in facilitating access to water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. Researchers believe that a large proportion of these diseases are related to diarrhea incidences which contribute to the mortality rate of about 1.9 million and new diarrhea cases estimated at 4 billion annually especially among children under five years old.
Sadly, the developing countries, South Africa included, account for around 19% of those mortality rates.
Our launch today of the National Hygiene Programme is in line with the Action Plan to 2019 Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2030 which recognizes the nexus between education, health and poverty reduction strategies. Goal 25 of the Action Plan enjoins us to:
“Use schools as vehicles for promoting access to a range of public services amongst learners in areas such as health, poverty alleviation, psychosocial support, sport and culture”.
Research studies have shown that the effects of lack of appropriate water facilities, hand-washing, and unhygienic practices is negative on child health. These include amongst others impaired cognitive learning. There are other long term negative effects including infections such as diarrhea, worm infestations, and dehydrations which are largely attributed to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions.
Particularly pleasing to the heart is that both these health related programmes namely the National Schools Deworming Programme and National School Hygiene Programme are exclusively funded by the private sector. The National Schools Deworming Programme has a universal coverage among the targeted cohort. The target is to reach all Grade R-7 learners in quintile 1-3 primary schools.
Whereas, the National Hygiene Programme will also have a universal access for all Grade 1 learners in South Africa. We are eternal grateful to the primary sponsor of this programme, namely Unilever South Africa. Together with Unilever South Africa we have agreed on a five-year partnership to implement the National School Hygiene Programme, which involves a 21-day in-class behavior change campaign and provision of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes on all school days. This, programme director, is a significant milestone.
This holistic response appraises, protects, and improves the health of learners, with the goal of reducing absenteeism and increasing academic achievement and ultimately the quality of basic education.
As part of the implementation of the Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) framework in particular the dictates of the Integrated School Health Programme, we have adopted a three-pronged approach (in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, (WHO). These include:
- Health education including the type of worms, how transmission is taking place, prevention of worms and hand washing integrated into the workbooks;
- Regular deworming of children in schools; and
- Provision of adequate sanitation, safe water and the maintenance thereof to be provided to schools.
Our launch today therefore marks a successful completion of the implementation of both pro-poor and proactive interventions to address health needs of children especially those in precarious conditions.
Evidence from East Asia through the Fit for Health Programme suggests that combining deworming and hand-washing with soap, tooth-brushing and good sanitation practices in the Foundation Phase (Grade R-3) can significantly reduce risk for diarrhea and respiratory infection, thereby promoting school participation and heightened and conducive learning environment.
I am pleased to say the outcome of the National School Hygiene Programme will result in significant improvements in the health and education outcomes of learners through building knowledge, skills thus resulting in self-sufficiency of Grade 1 learners in public schools.
As I have noted, our primary sponsor, Unilever South Africa will provide hygiene related products and health education focusing: on hand washing with Unilever South Africa -donated soap, oral hygiene and good sanitation practices. In addition, for schools with water-resourced ablution facilities, Unilever South Africa will donate Domestos Disinfectant for the cleaning of toilets.
Programme Director, the reality of the situation is that we are unable to achieve all that is needed to be done alone as Government, hence the need for partnerships and private sector investment in education.
Programme Director, I want to argue that the most effective partnerships are where partners not only enrich each other but also find ways where they can mutually benefit. Our singular goal for any partnerships in education is to create space for social partners and the business community to assist in realising the achievement of Delivery Outcome 1 i.e. “Improved Quality of Basic Education”. Our partnership with the Unilever South Africa fits faultlessly within this framework of a mutually beneficial symbiosis. We therefore owe a debt of gratitude to the bright sparks at Unilever South Africa who daily work effortlessly to change the lives of our children throughout the country.
I thank you.