AJN editor-in-chief emeritus Diana Mason sent us the following update from South Africa, where she’s been on tour with some nursing colleagues and friends. Next week she’ll be attending the quadrennial conference of the International Council of Nurses in Durban and will be sending us regular blog postings.
This is my second week in South Africa. What a stunningly beautiful country. The people are diverse and lovely. The food is fabulous. The vistas are varied and magnificent, though it’s hard to miss the shantytowns that dot the landscape. From the airplane, you can tell these areas by the roofs and the size of the dwellings that are squished onto small plots of barren land. The sun reflects off the metal roofs of the shacks that are the homes of poor blacks, making them sweltering hot boxes in the summer and cold in the winter. In a tour of Soweto, our guide told us that some of the poorest sections still have no running water or toilets. These shantytowns can be right next to upscale neighborhoods—evident by house size, proper roofs, and cultivated gardens.
The disparities are tragic, given the mineral and monetary wealth of the country. One guide told me that the illiteracy and innumeracy rate of children in South Africa was almost 75%. The WHO reports that life expectancy is 47 for men and 49 for women. Mortality of children under five is twice as high for those with uneducated mothers than for those with highly educated mothers.
Crime is rampant, as evident from the barred windows and the high walls that people erect around their homes. It’s a topic of discussion everywhere I’ve been. But the links among income disparities, education levels, and crime are not always recognized in South Africa. As I was flying to Capetown on June 18, I read a (subscription only, so I’ll skip the link) piece in The Star, one of the country’s newspapers, that called for the nation’s leaders to invest of the education of its children. I can think of no better way to improve the health of South Africa’s children and all of its people.
This country has so much beauty and potential. I hope its new, controversial president, Jacob Zuma, will understand that South Africa will not be a healthy nation until the educational and income disparities are reduced. It’s a tall order, given the current recession.
Diana Mason, PhD, RN