UKZN academics Professor Verusia Chetty (right) and Professor Rowena Naidoo.

UKZN Academics Contribute to Policy Briefs on Staying Fit during COVID-19

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UKZN academics have helped provide input for two policy briefs aimed at giving guidance to governments and civil societies in Africa on the critical need for people to stay physically active during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it became clear there was a need to develop plans, policies and programmes to promote physical fitness on the continent, a group of more than 40 academics, researchers and implementation partners from nine countries in Africa prepared a series of policy briefs.

The group was spearheaded by UKZN’s Associate Professor Rowena Naidoo, Academic Leader (Biokinetics, Exercise and Leisure Sciences) of the College of Health Sciences, and Professor Vicki Lambert of the University of Cape Town’s Research Centre for Health through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport (HPALS).

Together they created two policy briefs – the first targeted the general public and the second, children in three environments – home, school and communities.

Associate Professor Verusia Chetty of UKZN, who has just written a children’s book on COVID-19, was in the core writing group for the second policy brief. Endorsed by the African Physical Activity Network (AFPAN) and supported by the Western Cape Department of Health, the goal of the policy briefs is to guide decision makers, planners and programme leaders, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards.

Naidoo and Chetty, both DRILL (Developing Research Innovation, Localisation and Leadership) Fellows, together with Professor Brett Smith (DRILL mentor) of the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, are currently leading the creation of a third policy brief: Physical Activity and Health in Africa for Children and Adolescents with Disabilities: COVID-19 and Beyond.

The DRILL programme seeks to provide local researchers with the skill set required to address health challenges together with all the people of South Africa. The training programme functions in multidisciplinary settings and provides awareness of synergistic networks and partnerships needed to achieve high-impact results in public health research and services.

Many healthcare providers and policy makers now acknowledge the importance of physical activity for health and development in Africa.  It is generally accepted that regular physical activity saves lives and improves the quality of life and physical and mental well-being, and also boosts the immune system.

There is no doubt COVID-19 highlighted the importance of physical activity and exercise for individual health and wellbeing as well as for the wellbeing and social cohesion of communities.

The decision by governments to restrict the movement of people to minimise the transmission of COVID-19 created a “window of opportunity”. Restrictions created “push back” from civil society, fitness centres, gyms, and community organisations, who wanted responsible access for physical activity and to create “activity-supportive” environments.  Governments have clearly recognised that access to physical activity is vital.

To view the adult and children-specific policy briefs and further information – visit https://www.westerncape.gov.za/westerncape-on-wellness and track on social media using #PhysicalActivity4Africa.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photographs: Supplied