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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.102 n.11 Cape Town Jan. 2012




Can the re-engineering of PHC and/ or the introduction of community paediatricians be the solution?



To the Editor: The recent article about the new paediatric sub-specialty to improve child health in South Africa quotes grim child health statistics to illustrate the need to look for new strategies to improve child health.1 Can the re-engineering of primary healthcare (PHC) and/or the introduction of community paediatricians be the solution?

I would like to share my experience. We were also confronted with bad child health conditions and statistics, but achieved great improvement in one decade (Table 1).2-4

The improvement in maternal and child health was achieved by the vigorous implementation of PHC in the whole catchment area of the Gelukspan Community Hospital. The factors contributing to this achievement included a change from curative hospital-based medicine to PHC; a determined effort to reach every child and pregnant woman in the community; comprehensive and integrated approach by the health services as a whole and no fragmentation; building a health team with strong reliance on nurses and allied health workers; and re-allocation of staff and resources to community-based services so that all villages had a clinic or visits by a mobile clinic.

During this time a visit to the hospital by the late Professor John Hansen during his sabbatical had a profound impact on the development of the services as a result of his enthusiasm and encouragement. However, the work was done by the PHC team without any specialist doctors or nurses, and with involvement of the mothers as 'the most important health workers'.



A similar remarkable improvement in maternal and child health recently reported from India was achieved by a nurse-driven programme and strong focus on community involvement.5 Maternal mortality decreased by 75% and infant mortality by nearly 50% to 43/1 000 within a few years.

The potential impact of the re-discovery and implementation of PHC is considerable, and there is no reason to delay starting. The involvement of (community) paediatricians can contribute to the process, but cannot substitute for a focused approach by the whole health team and the involvement of the community.

Martin Bac
Department of Family Medicine
University of Pretoria


12. Swingler G, Hendricks M, Hall D, et al Can a new paediatric sub-speciality improve child health in South Africa? S Afr Med J 2012;102:738-739.         [ Links ]

13. Bac M. Evaluation of child health services at the Gelukspan Community Hospital, Radithuso, Bophuthatswana, 1976-1084. S Afr Med J 1986;70:277-280.         [ Links ]

14. Bac M. Progress towards Health for All in the Gelukspan Health Ward - 1985. MD thesis, Medical University of Southern Africa, 1987.         [ Links ]

15. Van Oord DJ. Fertility transition in a rural African community. MD thesis, Medical University of Southern Africa, 1996.         [ Links ]

16. Alehagen SA, Finnström O, Hermansson GV, et al. Nurse-based antenatal and child health care in rural India, implementation and effects - an Indian-Swedish collaboration. Rural and Remote Health 2012;12:2140. (accessed 8 October 2012).         [ Links ]

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