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Johannesburg - South Africa's maternal and child death rates remain unacceptably high, BHP Billiton chairman Xolani Mkhwanazi said on Tuesday.
“This is a serious concern, and calls for responsible leadership towards creating components of sustainability for future generations to enjoy an improved quality of life,” he said.
Mkhwanazi was speaking at the launch of an early childhood development project headed by the resources company in collaboration with international non-profit organisation PATH, at Gallagher Estate in Midrand.
The company has contributed R200 million to a five-year initiative to transform early childhood development in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, Maputo and Mozambique.
The project would concentrate on improving health care services for newborns and children up until the age of two.
It aimed to decrease child and maternal mortality.
Social Development Department official Margot Davids said the project was important because society gave more attention to the older generation and neglected childhood development, which was a foundation.
Davids said the first 1000 days of a child's life were important and determined the child's future development.
“This project will help reduce the risks of social problems in future,” she said.
Women and Children Minister Lulu Xingwana said the initiative needed to be extended to the country's poorer provinces.
“Development of the Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces should be also prioritised... Women and children are suffering in those areas.”
Xingwana encouraged other private companies to follow in the steps of BHP Billiton and work with the government to improve the lives of people living in rural areas, informal settlements and on farms.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi was expected to address the delegates but was not present. Deputy director general Dr Yogan Pillay spoke on his behalf.
Pillay praised BHP Billiton's efforts and urged companies not to pressurise women into returning to work too soon after giving birth, as exclusive breastfeeding played a major role in child development.
He said government needed the help of private companies to push for National Health Insurance, as private health care was “unsustainable”.
“Public health centres need to be strengthened, and projects like this will assist,” said Pillay.
According to BHP Billiton, the five-year project would impact the health and development of 750,000 pregnant women and children. - Sapa