“No child should die simply because they lack access to vaccinations.”
It was with these words that the Chief Executive Officer of Nedbank, Mike Brown, announced that the company would be investing an additional R5 million ($348,000) towards Nedbank’s #VaxTheNation campaign.
This commitment was made at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 on Dec. 2 2018 in Johannesburg; and formed part of Nedbank’s partnership with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF).
#VaxTheNation is aimed at educating families and communities on the importance of immunisation and providing life-saving vaccines from the time a child is born.
Giving children opportunities to thrive
Globally, immunisation saves between 2 and 3 million lives every year by helping to end preventable deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, more than 1.5 million deaths could be prevented by improved access to immunisation.
Now, almost a year after Nedbank’s monumental announcement, Global Citizen spoke to Shadi Nyokong, the manager of the Child Survival and Development programme at the NMCF, to find out how South African lives have been impacted by the commitment.
Nyokong said that the commitment made on the Global Citizen stage last December has now helped the organisation extend its reach, and save even more lives.
“We need to be the kind of society where every child thrives, and grows into an individual who contributes meaningfully to society,” Nyokong says.
She adds that investing in children’s health from the moment of conception and throughout the first six years of their lives determines long-term outcomes like social skills, how the brain develops, and the prospects of growing into an adult who reaches their full potential.
Reaching as many communities as possible
The full R5 million has now been distributed to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and it started rolling out programmes supported by the Mandela 100 commitment in April.
Already the effects are reverberating in communities in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape, North West, KwaZulu Natal, Free State, and Gauteng.
The efforts launched in April included a R150,000 advocacy grant to tackle healthcare issues specifically among children under two years old living in a mining area in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Meanwhile, funding then approved in September has also been used to train community healthcare workers and 30 early childhood development practitioners to support children in their first 1,000 days of life.
The first 1,000 days of life are the time between conception and a child’s second birthday — and this period is fundamental to laying the foundations for the child to grow into a healthy adult.
The Mandela 100 commitment has also been used to support the work of community healthcare workers who routinely visit families to track if children are being immunised on time, says Nyokong.
On these visits, healthcare workers also encourage caregivers to stimulate children through music, reading, and educational games.
Through the work of community health workers who have received training and funding through the Nedbank commitment, over 16,000 children under six years old, and more than 1,300 pregnant women, have so far been impacted.
The funding, Nyokong adds, has also contributed towards community awareness programmes aimed at educating and mobilising communities to work together to promote child health.
“The grant has allowed us to establish and extend critical services to children who would otherwise not get a chance to be immunised, and mothers who don’t have the antenatal care needed to ensure safe pregnancy and delivery,” she says.
Advocating for children
The Child Survival and Development programme is a comprehensive initiative that targets all aspects of child development — from immunisations and cognitive development, to the economic empowerment of families and advocating for policies that are needed to best ensure that children’s rights are protected.
A share of the commitment from Nedbank has also gone towards strengthening vaccination and antenatal care and support programmes in Vryheid in the Zululand district, which is a district with one of the highest child mortality rates in South Africa.
“This programme has resulted in increasing immunisation, and increasing the number of pregnant women attending antenatal care and support,” adds Nyokong.
As a result, Nyokong says, in the sites where the child survival programme is implemented, no child deaths were reported, and there has been an increase in numbers of women giving birth at hospitals rather than at home.
The impact of the commitment
But beyond grant allocations and workshops, says Nyokong, impact is when the life of a pregnant mother is saved through enabling a safer birth; or when a vaccinated child is protected from potentially fatal diseases.
She says that a healthy start to life for an infant is then followed by ongoing interventions to ensure that child continues to thrive as they develop.
This impact, in relation to the Manela 100 commitment is that pregnant women are starting to adhere to their antenatal care appointments.
As a result, 813 women in one of the programmes in Mpumalanga completed antenatal classes to help ensure that they and their babies stay healthy.
Meanwhile, parents have become aware of the importance of immunisation, Nyokong continued, and 486 children aged between 0 and 12 months have been fully immunised.
Additionally, almost 5,000 children under the age of five have been dewormed and given their vitamin A shots.
Nyokong also says the programme has supported the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and women’s wellness clubs — which help mothers support each other in places where healthcare services are limited — have supported 826 women.
The work of Nedbank and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund are just one example of the many extraordinary commitments made at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100.
To find out more about how the actions of Global Citizens are changing lives in South Africa and around the world, you can read the full 1-year impact report here.