Hunger must be seen as a determinant of health

YESTERDAYS looting of supermarkets in several South African townships, is unfortunately driven by hunger. These food riots are indicative of an alarming situation unfolding two and a half weeks into the hard lockdown. Gatesville, Manenburg, Tafelsig, Alexandra, are where low-income families have been forced into the lockdown without any tangible relief from government. Hunger must be seen as a determinant of health alongside the burden of disease.

Instead our government appears hellbent on implementing prescriptions driven by the WHO in Geneva. Solutions which may turnout to be wholly unsuited to conditions in emerging economies such as our own. The lockdown may be wrong for Africa.

It is doubtful whether or not the hard lockdown will accomplish any of the supposed objectives laid out by our Health Minister, and should rather be replaced by a smart lockdown, or soft lockdown as soon as possible. Despite experiencing a surge, Japan has implemented a soft lock-down, as have many countries fully aware that completely suppressing the virus risks the situation where one merely postpones and lengthens the epidemic.

According to chief scientist Prof Salim Karim, ‘South Africa will know on 18 April’ if the methodology utilised against the coronovirus is inaccurate or factually correct. The measures may have bought time for our health system to prepare for a coming surge, known as the ‘delayed exponential curve of infection’.

If mitigation measures  to curtail the spread of hunger, are not implemented immediately, the problem of mass starvation could dwarf the current epidemic and grow to haunt South Africans as we move forward during an unprecedented period of economic turmoil. Most households are only able to maintain a two-week supply of food. Without income or food parcels, the situation could quickly deteriorate to conditions seen during wartime, famine and natural disasters.

“Our problem is not that we don’t have enough food in South Africa. Our problem is that the food is only available to those who have cash” writes business strategist Marius Oosthuizen.

The closure of restaurants and hotels has perversely resulted in literal food mountains. Tonnes of produce is being destroyed around the world because of the global pandemic, while ordinary consumers are ironically forced to pay more for fresh produce.

Since 2011, three million more South Africans have been pushed below the poverty line, according to a study by the national data agency, Statistics South Africa. More than 30.4 million South Africans—55.5% of the population—live on less than 992 rand (about $75) per person per month. Yesterdays interest rate cut will assist middle-class households, but the problem remains that most households were already below the poverty line at the beginning of the lock-down.

Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina on Tuesday launched a food bank to provide relief to the poor during the Covid-19 outbreak. The same plan alongside further disaster relief is required in every Metro, town and city. School feeding schemes urgently need to be restored. Other relief measures that should be contemplated include once off emergency cash payments to each and every household.

Current relief packages rolled out by national government include  assistance to SMMEs, tax relief, Agricultural Aid, UIF, Health and other support services. More needs to be done if the lockdown continues. As an anonymous author from Iran writes, ‘the difference between barbarism and civilisation is a plate of food’.

It is imperative that food security be seen alongside the burden of disease, as a determinant of people’s health.

 

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