On Wednesday 28 October at the Rhodes University Eden Grove Red lecture theatre, Dr Yogan Pillay gave a talk titled “every little bit helps- social change and psychology”. Dr Pillay is the Deputy Director General of Strategic Health Programmes at the Department of Health.
In his talk, Dr Pillay argued that the focus in South Africa at present is on meeting basic needs, ensuring that all citizens have proper housing, water supply and sanitation, electricity, health care and other services. However, the government has not successfully provided all of this for the citizens and communities are getting impatient with the government.
A study conducted in 2009 showed that between 2005 and 2007, 1400 women died from birth-related causes and the women most at risk are HIV positive women. Thus women are dying in their prime and at their most productive stage of life. The study also showed that during the same period, 60 000 children under the age of five died from diseases linked to a lack of clean, safe water.
Pillay argues that these deaths could have been avoided. For example, most of the children under five that die every year die from causes related to malnutrition. Malnutritioned children need to be fed every three hours but at public hospitals in South Africa, kitchens close at five in the afternoon. If these circumstances were changed, these deaths could have been avoided.
Poverty creates ill-health because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick. These include places without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.Pillay said that the Eastern Cape is particularly at high risk because of the water shortages we are experiencing. He also noted that the provinces with the highest rates of poverty are often the same provinces with the highest teen pregnancy and HIV prevalence rates.
Dr Pillay said that there is a great need for social change in South Africa in order to make it a better, safer, healthier and more equitable society. He said that there is a great need to improve the daily living conditions, improve the well-being of women and girls and circumstances in which their children are born.
At the moment, Pillay said, early childhood development is primarily about simply creating a place where our children can be kept safe for a while. There needs to be a long-term strategy on improving their well-being, this includes tackling the inequitable distribution of power between men and women. For this to happen, there needs to be a strong public sector, a strengthened government and an accountable private sector.
Communities also need to be mobilised to engage in collective, civic activities and to challenge non-responsive or oppressive institutions to redress power imbalances. Communities can be empowered by increasing their skills and providing them with access to resources and information.
Dr Pillay was the HoD of the Psychology Department at the University of Durban Westville and has worked in various capacities in the national Department of Health. He has a wealth of expertise in the development of policies in health strategies and legislation, and in the monitoring and support of policy and programme implementation.
He was honoured at the event that forms part of the 'Psychology and change project' initiated by the Psychology Department in 2008. The project seeks to honour prominent members of the psychology community in South Africa for their contribution to social change in the country.