Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi was focusing on the significance of preventative as opposed to curative approaches to health, such as the use of vaccines, in Parliament on Wednesday.

"A report compiled by the Mail & Guardian's newly established Bhekisisa health reporting centre, and published on Friday last week, demonstrates one of the examples," he said. 

"It shows how four years ago, the department of health introduced two very new vaccines, Prevenar, to reduce the risk of children contracting pneumonia, and Rotarix to prevent incidences of diarrhoea in children."

The M&G's story was the first to reveal that these vaccines have resulted in 40% fewer children being hospitalised for these two diseases. Since the introduction of Rotarix, a gastrointestinal ward in Ngangelizwe Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, which dealt specifically with cases of childhood diarrheal disease, has seen such a drastic reduction in hospitalisations it closed down.

"Around 2006, this ward used to admit close to 1 000 children annually. It is now closed down," said Motsoaledi.

However, Bhekisisa also reported that coverage for these vaccines is still far too low. In other poorer African countries these vaccines reach a much higher percentage of children. Ninety-seven percent of children in Rwanda, for example, receive Prevenar compared to only 72% in South Africa.

The M&G Health Journalism Centre was officially launched in April to provide in-depth health stories for the M&G as well as train and mentor African journalists in health journalism. It is a private-public partnership between the M&G and GIZ, on behalf of the German government, and also hosts critical thinking forums on health-related issues that brings together key role players and journalists in the health sector.