Given the tough and unprecedented times that we're in, making it into the New Year is definitely not something to be taken lightly. We trust that you ushered in the New Year peacefully and responsibly, without over-indulging in the festivities, or doing anything that you might grow to regret in future.
New Year: A Chance at Instrospection/Health Consciousness
With the start of the New Year comes the opportunity to start afresh, conduct an introspection, and not repeat the same mistakes of last year. For individuals, it should be the opportunity to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul, by becoming more health-conscious, and behaving in a manner that protects us and our loved ones from acquiring and spreading diseases. It's also a good time for us to start adopting good habits such as undergoing comprehensive health screening and testing so that we may find out if there are any diseases that are creeping up on us. This ensures that we take the appropriate action to stop them from developing further, and then ambushing us when we least expect, or when it's too late to intervene. It's also a good time for us to change and improve our eating habits, and follow a healthier and balanced diet.
Activities such as taking up regular exercising have a number of benefits, such as weight control, and can help reduce the risk of heart diseases, and also enable the better management of blood sugar and insulin levels.
Pressing Restart; Caring for The People We Serve
Importantly, for us in the public health sector, this is also a time to reflect on who we are, what we stand for, why we are where we are, and why we do what we do. On why we are nurses, doctors, and allied health workers, it’s a time for us to go back to respecting and treating each and every healthcare user that's in front of us the way we would like our own parents and family members to be treated. To those behind the counter and on the operating table at our clinics, CHCs and hospitals, our clients are not a nuisance that must be treated with disdain, and spoken to anyhow. They're not just "an irritation" that left home and came to us because they had nothing better to do. They're here because they are not well; and they've come to us because we are all that they have.
Bathembele kithina. When you delay the start of your shift at the clinic in the morning; nilibele wukuxoxa izindaba instead of working, or when you all go on lunch break at the same time and leave people waiting, unnecessarily, for hours on end; you're failing our people.
When you make our fellow compatriots stand in long queues, in the scorching heat or in the rain, without making better alternative arrangements - because you have an air-conditioned office and medical aid, you are letting them down your own brothers and sisters, and stripping them of their own dignity. It is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it.
So, let us remember that, being in the health sector is not just a job, but a calling. It is not "work", or a "dead-end job", but a vocation. That is how it must be seen. As something from which we should all derive a deep sense of satisfaction, because we're supposed to save lives and give hope to the hopeless out there.
Despite whatever challenges we may be going through, let us not forget that each day presents us with an opportunity to make someone's day, and give them a reason to live another day. And that is a very powerful position to be in, which we should all use to the public's advantage. So, as we enter the New Year, let us try and rediscover ourselves, and the reason why we exist, and embrace the people that we are called upon to serve. This need not be a New Year's Resolution that fizzles out after a few days, weeks, or months; but a way of doing things that we carry with ourselves for the duration of our carriers.
Lifting of the Curfew
We have noted the announcement by the Presidency of several changes to the Adjusted Alert Level 1 COVID-19 regulations. While we fully understand and support this decision, we would like to nevertheless urge our fellow compatriots not to entirely abandon the ethos and spirit of general restraint which underpinned the curfews and other restrictions that we've had. When you're faced with an abnormal situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes very important to adopt a "business unusual" approach and exercise restraint. Ukuzibamba nje, until the situation returns to normal. It really will not hurt to continue observing the 12am curfew, and avoiding large gatherings, even if it is no longer a legal requirement, because the end goal is for us to behave in a way that does not make the ground fertile for the spread of infection. So, while the relaxing of the regulations is good for the economy, let us all remember that the Omicron variant, which is currently the most dominant in the country, is highly infectious. This means that the risk of an increase in the rate of infections is still quite high.
We therefore support the call that all organisers of public gatherings must ensure that all health protocols are observed at all times; and that we all must get vaccinated, so that our bodies are able to fight the virus, in case we get infected.
Girls Aged Under 18 Falling Pregnant
One again, we have to register our concern that among these mothers is a 15 year-old, two 16 year-olds, a 17 year-old, and an 18 year-old. In the case of the 15 year-old girl, the father is 18 years old. You then begin to realise that the mother was just 14 years old when she conceived, while the boy was 17. So, these are just children, who are nowhere near ready for the responsibilities that come with bringing a child into the world.
We therefore can never over-emphasise the risks that our girls are exposed to when they fall pregnant. Not only are they in danger of potentially fatal pregnancy-related ailments, but their prospects of fulfilling their potential as human beings are vastly diminished.
We once again call upon parents, guardians, educators and community leaders to have open and frank conversations with their children about the benefits of abstinence and responsible sexual behaviour. We also re-iterate our call for society to expose and help bring to book any man who impregnates a girl aged 16 and below, because that constitutes statutory rape. We also urge law enforcement authorities to adopt a zero-tolerance stance against this scourge that continues to bedevil our society.
We would like to draw from the words of wisdom that were once uttered by one of the greatest revolutionaries in history, Cde Che Guevara, who once said, and I quote: "Everyday, you have to fight so that love for humanity can be transformed into concrete deeds, into acts that set an example, that mobilise." So, may you be the change you want to see. Once again, we wish you a Happy New Year filled with good health, happiness, and prosperity.
By Ms Nomagugu Simelane
Kwa Zulu Natal Health MEC.