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Bureau of the UNICEF Executive Board visit to South Africa

UNICEF South Africa/2017/Bisin
© UNICEF South Africa/2017/Bisin
The Bureau of the Executive Board with UNICEF South Africa staff outside the UNICEF South Africa office in Pretoria.

By Sandra Bisin

A delegation from the Bureau of UNICEF’s Executive Board visited South Africa from 7 to 10 March to take stock of the situation of children in South Africa and the impact of UNICEF’s work in an upper-middle income country.

Pretoria, South Africa, 13 March 2017 – A typically warm Zulu welcome greeted members of the Bureau of the UNICEF Executive Board when they visited a Safe Park in the village of Ndwedwe in KwaZulu Natal, in north-eastern South Africa this week.

Children and child and youth care workers (CYCWs) sang as they escorted the delegates to the shade of the centre’s meeting area, a complete contrast to the arid landscape surrounding Ndwedwe. The delegation came to listen to the stories of children and child and youth care workers, who proudly stood up and spoke for themselves about the positive difference in their lives that the Safe Parks and home visits by the CYCWs have brought about.

Safe Parks are secure spaces for children to go to after school and on the weekends where they can do their homework, play, engage in sports and learning activities under the supervision of a child and youth care worker. Often, the structures in the park are former shipping containers which are appropriately fitted out and colorfully painted.

UNICEF has been a key implementing partner of over 400 Safe Parks in South Africa, which today allow for nearly 25,000 children nationwide to learn life skills through play, to succeed in their academics and become responsible members of their community regardless of their circumstances.

The Safe Parks are part of the Isibindi initiative – Isibindi means ‘courage’ in Zulu – which was designed by South Africa’s National Association of Child Care Workers, supported by UNICEF. The model is a community-based care and protection intervention for children. Isibindi is implemented in the 9 provinces of South Africa, and the services reach in total an estimated 750,000 children. The Isibindi model aims to respond holistically to the needs of children, youth and families who are vulnerable and at risk of abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation. Unemployed community members are screened, selected, trained and deployed as child and youth care workers servicing families in their own communities.

Isibindi child and youth care workers assist some of South Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable children, including those affected by HIV and AIDS, orphaned children, child-headed households or granny-headed households. Only one in three children live with both his/her biological parents and one in six has lost a parent.

During the final debriefing of the Bureau of the Executive Board with the Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Social Development, there was mutual agreement for 1.4 million children to be reached through the Isibindi model. This partnership is a central element of a new, broader cash, care and protection strategy, in which the Department of Social Development will seek to integrate a digitized case management system with the existing social assistance information management system. This will be combined with a social compact model for promoting greater community and private sector investment in local prevention and early intervention services.

‘We’ve seen encouraging results on the ground, moving forward in South Africa. Indeed, over the next decades UNICEF will have a key role in promoting private-public partnerships’, said the President of the UNICEF Executive Board, H.E. Mr. Walton Alfonso Webson.

UNICEF Executive Board visits South Africa

For the first time since the establishment of the UNICEF South Africa office in 1994, a delegation from the Bureau of UNICEF’ Executive Board visited the country – to assess how the organization is making a difference for children in an upper middle-income country like this one.

The President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, representing Latin America and the Caribbean, H.E. Mr. Walton Alfonso Webson, led the delegation, which included Third Secretary to the Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Claxton Duberry; Permanent Representative of Burkina-Faso to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Yemdaogo Eric Tiare, representing Africa; Mr. Daniel Gimenez, First Secretary, permanent mission of Norway to the United Nations, for H.E. Ms. May-Elin Stener, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative, representing Western Europe and other States; Mr. Bilal Wilson, expert, permanent mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, for H.E. Mr. Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, representing Asia; and the Secretary of the Executive Board, Nicolas Pron.

UNICEF South Africa’s Representative, Mr. Herve Ludovic de Lys, acted as their guide to the issues facing South Africa’s most vulnerable children and their families – and to what UNICEF is doing to help. 

UNICEF South Africa/2017/Bisin
© UNICEF South Africa/2017/Bisin
Walton Webson, President of the UNICEF Executive Board, visits one of 400 safe parks providing care and protection from violence, abuse and neglect to 25,000 children in South Africa.

Innovation Key to Mothers’ and Babies’ Health

During a visit to Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in KwaZulu Natal, the delegation saw the impact of UNICEF’s work with the South African Government at the provincial and facility level. They learned more about the efforts, policies and investment decisions being implemented towards achieving the Last Mile for the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (EMTCT) in South Africa.

South Africa contributes to an estimated 16 per cent of new HIV infections globally, hence the country has rolled out a successful and large HIV treatment programme with more than 40 per cent of HIV infected adults accessing anti-retroviral therapy (ART). The last decade has seen one of the most historic and successful public health milestones in the history of South Africa’s response to the HIV epidemic, the success of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV programme moving the country closer to the goal of an HIV free generation.

The dramatic scale up of PMTCT services integrated in the maternal and child health care services and primary health care resulted in almost universal HIV testing among pregnant women since 2009, compared to slightly less than 50 per cent of pregnant women tested for HIV infection in 2005. The number of new infections among children declined by 79 per cent from an estimated 78,000 infections in 2004 to 16,000 infections in 2013. In 2016, this figure was at an estimated 5,000 infections at six weeks after birth due to the rapid expansion of services to prevent MTCT.

The hospital was also one of the pilot sites to test the power of an innovative project called ‘MomConnect’ supported by the KZN provincial department of health and UNICEF. The program is now implemented at scale with almost 1.3 million pregnant women and mothers connected through SMS text alert messages.

The programme sends key health messages to women’s mobile phones through pregnancy and until one year after the child’s birth supporting sharing information and improving knowledge around nutrition, immunization etc. The program also features a help desk, for supporting questions from mothers and pregnant women as well as facilitating the lodging of complaints and compliments of the service. UNICEF supports the help desk feature with alignment of the systems to the global rapid pro/case pro management technology.

‘I have been impressed by MomConnect, which showcases the power of innovation to improve maternal and newborn health’, said Permanent Representative of Burkina-Faso to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Yemdaogo Eric Tiare. 

© UNICEF South Africa/2017/Bisin
Walk through South Africa’s history! UNICEF Executive Board members and UNICEF South Africa Representative visited Mandela House in Soweto.

Partnerships for Children

During the course of the visit, the UNICEF South Africa team was able to showcase the strong partnerships it engages in to achieve results for children, particularly among the United Nations development system in support of the Government, but also with other development actors, civil society groups and the private sector.

“We offer our unique assets to support companies that want to make a positive contribution to children, communities and the environment. We sit down with partners and jointly design and implement initiatives that build on the strengths and opportunities offered by each company. We help corporations and foundations achieve their corporate responsibility commitments as well as their business objectives”, said UNICEF South Africa’s Representative, Mr. Herve Ludovic de Lys.





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