The health needs and priorities of a semi-urban African community.
This commentary is essentially a report on various aspects of assessment of health needs and priorities in a peri-urban black community (mainly African) situated near Pinetown. The study was initially conducted under the auspices of the Pinetown Health Department, and the main findings are as follows (a) The geographical area of Mariannhill II Location includes what the local people call "Impola" and "Tshelimnyama", and sustains a population of 3 000 persons on some 500 hectares. (b) The origins of the population have been found, contrary to popular belief, to be 92% urban and semi-urban, and only 8% rural. (c) Demographic characteristics are those of an established stable community with a high mortality rate and high fertility (135 livebirths per 1 000 women aged 15 - 49 years per annum). The sex ratio is 99.4 males per 100 females, and there are no migratory characteristics. (d) The average number of individuals per household is 9, with a lot of overcrowding per room (not quantified). Of 1 346 adults of working age 43.68% are unemployed. (e) Morbidity and mortality studies conducted both at the level of the community and hospital revealed that children under the age of one year had the most sickness episodes, while the age groups 6.1 to 18 years had the least. (f) The disease profile is that of a typical third world developing country, with predominance of infections, accidents and physical violence. (g) Diarrhea disease constituted about 11% of the profile and was significantly associated with the water source for the household. (h) The most important cause of the 33 deaths reported over a one year period is motor vehicle accidents and physical violence (33.3%). (i) The major health resource is the local St Mary's Hospital with a 55% uptake of sickness episodes from the community. Nearly half of these ended up as in-patients. (j) 60% of children under the age of 6 years were estimated to have been fully immunized, and virtually all of it had been done by the hospital. (k) Community opinion on their problems and needs overwhelmingly pointed at water, clinic and lack of transport facilities as urgent matters. However, careful assessment of community concern pointed to the threat of removal as the most important single community problem, with implications for housing and all the other perceived problems. The majority of the people looked up to the Catholic Mission as a possible source of help to resolve the problem of availability of water. (l) As the study was initiated with a view to interventive strategies, the main findings are discussed against a background of information distilled from several literary sources, and recommendations for action are advanced. (m) Lastly, the most important problem in data collection has been that of inaccessibility of the Pinetown register of births and deaths to the Pinetown Medical Officer of Health. We regret the difficulty, but we hope to update our study when the problem has been overcome.