South Africa is home to some of the most dramatic health inequalities in the world today.

Thando Dlamini recently celebrated her 16th birthday but it was not the sweet sixteen her parents had wished for her. Living in a remote rural village, she lost both her parents to HIV the year before and became a victim of sexual abuse by her guardian shortly afterwards. Thando, now in her 3rd trimester, ashamed of having possibly contracted HIV, did not report her rapist… but now she knows what a mistake it was not to get tested.

Four hours after Thando frantically made the call, the ambulance pulled up to her shack, sirens and lights ablaze. Her uncle, who Thando suspected was suffering from HIV the past year but never knew his status, lay in a heap on the floor, unconscious… or dead. “Where’s the sick man?” enquired the medic discovering the scene. Thando emerged from the bedroom 3 siblings clutching her work clothes drying their tears. “It’s too late…!” whimpered Thando kneeling to the kitchen floor beside her only guardian. “… my uncle is gone!”

Thando’s life story is typical of many adolescent, orphaned, child headed, households in South Africa. What should have been a time of innocence and learning, turned to heartbreak and adversity. It did not end well for her uncle and only guardian. It was even worse for Thando. She was forced to leave school, abandon her youth and become a care giver and mother overnight at the age of 16, charged with feeding and clothing her siblings.

With a life expectancy of only 51, the life journey of a South African is a dangerous right of passage. Malnutrition is a major underlying cause of death in 64 percent of South Africa’s children under the age of five. One in five children are stunted and many are deficient in the vitamins and minerals vital to good health and optimal development. Every year about 75 000 children do not make it to their fifth birthday, and 75 percent of newborn babies die in their first week of life.

Malnutrition is high and contributes to 64 percent of all deaths in children under the age of five.  At the same time, an SA National Health and Examination survey showed that stunted growth in children is one of the main indicators of malnutrition.” Source: UNICEF SA 13 May 2015

The South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) revealed in 2013 that 26% of the population was actually facing hunger and a further 28% were at risk.