File photo: Annually, the Health Department spends nearly R500-million to treat over 14 000 children for severe acute malnutrition. Picture: Independent Media

Cape Town - There are growing calls for an increase in child support grants as the current amount is not enough to stave off malnutrition.

Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre Shaheema McLeod said they spend R2 000 per month to care for each woman and child, and the social grant was not sufficient.

“If you think about a baby, that (R380) is one pack of nappies. It is madness to think one could raise a child on it.”

She said with the money they are able to provide three balanced meals per day, and it is also for accommodation. “Children need balanced meals and access to education, toiletries and essential day-to-day items.”

Annually, the Health Department spends nearly R500-million to treat over 14 000 children for severe acute malnutrition.

DA social development portfolio committee member Karen Jooste said this was a sad reality, especially as malnutrition is preventable. “If government prioritises resources to vulnerable mothers in the first 1000 days of an infant’s life, fewer children will be admitted to hospital with this terrible condition."

Approximately 40 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital for severe acute malnutrition every day. Of the 40, four of those die on average, Jooste added.

She said they had fought for an increase in the social grants as mothers cannot be expected to feed children on R380 per month.

"This meagre amount is not enough to ensure that a child receives the nutritional value they need. It is borderline inhumane that our poor and vulnerable children are made to suffer in such a terrible way when they do not have to.”

Saira Khan, chief executive of Rise Against Hunger - formerly known as Stop Hunger Now - said malnutrition was due to children being fed incorrectly. She said the grant was not enough to nourish a child.

“The government intended to help people in poverty to support children, but we see little support for children, and young women are using it as an income rather than feeding children.”

She said mothers in turn use it to buy formula and spend the rest of the money on themselves.

“They end up diluting the formula to make it stretch longer.

"We have moved away from breastfeeding to formula and I think we need to go back to breastfeeding for children up until the age of two.”

Child nutritionist Bridget Surtees said proper nutrition needed to start from birth.

“Increasing education around breastfeeding across the population would help hugely and children get all their nutrients from breastmilk. Starting from birth is the biggest thing and it means not spending money on formula.”

Surtees said getting proper nutrition was important for brain growth. “If you get poor brain growth, that can affect everything Children can have stunted growth.”

Cape Argus