Basic Food Price Increases in South Africa Impacting Health of Children with Cancer

shopping trolleyThe price of basic foods eaten by low-income households in South Africa has increased by 15% in the past year, and many households can no longer get through the month on the household earnings, according to the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA).

PACSA, upon releasing its annual Food Price Barometer on the 13th October, which tracks the prices of 36 basic foods, warned of “greater levels of social instability” as people faced hunger and desperation.

The reason for this post is to give you all just an idea of what we are faced with when our Childhood Cancer Families come to us for help, and why we are struggling so much more this year to be able to help them (apart from all other projects and various other kinds of help, LFCT currently provides in excess of 130 Families with groceries every month).

With one of the parents having had to give up their job to care for their Child with Cancer these families are REALLY struggling to make ends meet for the whole family due to less income and all the added financial costs that come with having a Child with Cancer in the household (added travel costs, added medical costs, special dietary requirements, special personal hygiene requirements, etc. etc.)

Households with no savings to draw on cannot absorb shocks by spending more money,” said PACSA’s Mervyn Abrahams and Julie Smith.

The core finding of the PACSA Food Price Barometer is that our seemingly intractable unemployment crisis over the last several years, in a low wage regime and in a context of massive increases in goods and services, has wiped out buffers to absorb shocks.

For many households, the buffer of savings has been wiped out. The strategy to cut back on expenditures to absorb inflation has also reached a critical point where it is now becoming damaging because households cannot cut back any further without seriously compromising household functioning and their bodies; and driving households deeper into debt and poverty,” according to Abrahams and Smith.

Women & Children at Greatest Risk

Researchers warned that women are at greatest risk “because they absorb inflation in their bodies: they eat last and their plates are least diverse. This is resulting in a steep rise in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and depression.

NCDs are the leading cause of deaths for women aged between 45 and 64 years, yet these diseases can be mostly prevented or managed by a nutritious diet.

Households prioritise the payment of transport, education, electricity, burial insurance and the repayment of debt before food. Food is typically one of the last expenses households prioritise because it is one of the few expenses households can control. Because food is last in the line of expenditure, the food budget is low and households typically underspend on food. Food runs out before the end of the month and households have to go into debt to  fund food and other
expenditure shortfalls.

This also affects children, because without the correct type of nutrition children will not have enough energy to develop to their full potential mentally and physically – to study and learn and think at school. High starch diets in the absence of sufficient vegetables and fruits may result in very low levels of fibre intake and lead to digestive problems. The impact of very low levels of protein consumption and inadequate alternatives is that our immune systems are vulnerable to infection and illnesses.

Children need protein to feed their muscles; to grow properly, to play and to learn. High price inflation on fats and oils has significant implications for proper growth and development, as well as the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Low fat intake will result in reduced
absorption of essential vitamins important for the maintenance of our immune systems, eyesight, bone development and growth, antioxidant generation, and wound healing.

Individuals with impaired immune systems, such as Children with Cancer, who need to have a special, very nutritious diet in order to build up their already impaired immune system, will also suffer extremely badly – lack of nutrition may affect their ability to fight off the side-effects of cancer treatment, infections from a number of sources, as well as the cancer itself.

Deteriorating Nutrition

With less money to spend on food, households are filling up on maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil – and cutting out meat, vegetables and dairy products. This is resulting in “an acute deterioration of nutrition levels”.

The cost of a basic but minimum nutritional food basket for a household of seven (the average household size of urban low-income households in Pietermaritzburg) was R4 188.73 per month in September 2016. This is R544.64 more than it cost a year ago.

Whilst most foods increased; the foods driving inflation on the PACSA Food Basket are the foods which women term ‘the big foods.’ These foods include: maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil; and make up a third of the monthly spend in the trolleys of low-income households. These are the foods which households prioritise first on their shopping lists because they provide energy and the basis for all meals. They are relatively price inelastic and must be purchased regardless of their cost. Together ‘the big foods’ increased by 25% (R120.54) year-on-year. They cost R602.45 in September 2016 (up from R481.91 a year ago).

Out of ‘the big foods,’ maize meal, the most important food in the trollies of low-income households, was the biggest driver of inflation on the basket. A bag of 25kg maize meal increased by 32.2% or R55.02 year-on-year, taking the total cost to R225.82 in September 2016 (up from R170.80 a year ago).

Inflation on foods with high rand-values means that far less money is available to spend on all other essential food items. These foods tend to be nutrient-rich foods; foods like meat, eggs and fish, vegetables and dairy products. This year, along with substantial increases on the big foods; inflation on these nutrient-rich foods has also been very high. It means that nutritional diversity has been doubly threatened because not only is there less money to spend but the cost of foods has also increased.

Households are eating fewer varieties of foods and eating these same foods all the time. More maize meal (which experienced substantial inflation) is being purchased to offset the feelings of bodies screaming out for nutrition by providing quickly digestible energy; but at the expense of securing nutrient-rich foods.

With food running out before the end of the month; periods of nutritional deprivation are now longer and harm bodies because some nutrients cannot be stored. This is resulting in diets severely deficient in dietary diversity with serious implications for health and well-being and the ability of the body to resist diseases.

By all accounts the picture shows that low-income households are not coping. The crisis of affordability in the homes of low-income households is being masked because women are sacrificing their own bodies to ensure that their families are fed, albeit at very low levels of nutrition. Whilst women are showing extraordinary resistance, bodies are only as strong as what goes into them. It is a fight that they cannot win.

Everything comes from the body: food is core to the human endeavour, to being fully human, to all our developmental outcomes and aspirations as a country. We are in trouble. The foundation of our economy – our bodies – is being weakened. We are caught up in a cycle of deepening poverty, inequality and indebtedness. We need to
find our way out of this cycle. And we need to find it fast.

Households must be better supported to live at a basic level of dignity and to be able to afford a diversity of sufficient good quality nutritious food,” concludes PACSA.

The full 2016 PACSA Food Price Barometer Report can be read or downloaded in PDF format HERE

Please help us to help our Little Fighters & their Families by Making a Donation:

Bank Details

Account Holder: Little Fighters Cancer Organization
Bank: FNB Paarl Mall
Account No: 62277783249
Branch code: 250057
Swift code for international donations: FIRNZAJJ
Trust Reg No: IT2817/2010

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About LFCT

CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit Childhood Cancer support organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 17 October, 2016, in Blog, nutrition and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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