Nurturing the children

[Image] The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust ended Children’s Month with a picnic at the site which will host the hospital in 2014.

[Image] Trustees of the hospital showed their support and commitment to children by attending the picnic.
(Images: Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital)

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Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust ended Children’s Month, observed in the month of November, by hosting a picnic for youngsters from Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Forest Town School for Cerebral Palsy, Choc (Childhood Cancer Foundation) and Thingo Kids Pre-Primary, among other schools.

About 50 children joined Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Lebo M and the chief executive of the trust, Sibongile Mkhabela, at the site where the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital will be built in Parktown, Johannesburg for a day of fun in the sun on Friday, 30 November.

Madiba’s dream

The land for the hospital, which will be built by 2014, was donated by Wits University in 2009. Once completed, the hospital will be a academic hospital with 200 beds. Construction is estimated to be R1-billion and to date just over R200-million has been raised.

Building is expected to begin in February 2013 and will fulfil the dream of Nelson Mandela for world-class health care to be available to all children. “We are here today to honour what your great-grandfather Nelson Mandela promised you,” Mkhabela said to the kids. “If we love you, we will build a hospital for your needs.”

Mkhabela also called on members of the public, young and old, to donate towards the cost of building the hospital.

The chief executive of Ronald McDonald House Charities, Reggie Skhosana, said McDonald’s, the fast food franchise, would build the accommodation for the parents and families of the children who were being treated at the hospital.

“Our research has shown that when a child is sick he or she tends to heal faster when the parents are there,” Skhosana said. “That is why this hospital will have accommodation. We are going to house families whose children are very sick. A hospital on its own is too clinical; a home has warmth.”

Specialised facility for children

Mkhabela has a personal interest in a children’s hospital. Her son, Lindokuhle, died when he was only five years old, and she experienced the sorrows and frustrations of having her child treated in an adult ward. “I realised that nursing a child needs a particular character and specific training,” she said.

At the children’s hospital, she said, the needs of children would be prioritised in a way that was not demonstrated at regular hospitals, while bringing South Africa and the continent a little closer to meeting its increasing health care demands. Children’s health care needs were fundamentally different from those of adults and having a dedicated facility for children up to the age of 14 meant the hospital would be child-friendly.

Makhabela emphasised that patients would have access to world-class health care through collaboration with other local and international medical institutions.

At the site unveiling in 2009, Mandela stressed that a specialised, dedicated children’s hospital would be a credible demonstration of the commitments of African leaders to place the rights of children at the forefront. “Nothing less would be enough,” he said.

No child turned away

The hospital, as a not-for-profit organisation, will be a critical resource that will service not only South Africa but the rest of southern Africa as well. The hospital will run on the principle that no child will be turned away because his or her parents cannot pay.

“We are extremely pleased with the progress of the project so far,” said the chair of the hospital’s fundraising committee, Tito Mboweni. “We have a strong vision for Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and believe that it will not only save young lives but give children the right to be cared for and to receive medical treatment irrespective of their social or economic status.”

The facility will have hi-tech equipment, will be easily accessible by public transport or air, will be environmentally friendly and will have accommodation for the families of children who travel from far.

Addressing the issues

Unicef’s 2012 Child Mortality Report, which was released in September, showed that southern Africa was lagging other areas in paediatric medicine. The report found that poor children were 17 times more likely to experience hunger and three times less likely to complete school than children from wealthier backgrounds.

“One in five of our children have complex health conditions,” Mkhabela said.

There is a dearth of children’s hospitals in Africa; the only one at present – until the Mandela facility is completed – is the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. Canada, Germany and Australia have no less than 19 each.

It will be only the fourth dedicated paediatric hospital in Africa, for about 447 million children. Private funding will cover construction and staff costs, while the government will pay the operational costs.

“There is no better opportunity for our leaders and the health fraternity to stand united in demonstrating the urgency of putting children first,” she said.

The hospital trust launched a campaign to raise R300-million for the construction – a project that has already taken six years of planning. Mkhabela added a number of contributors continued to subscribe, making financial and in-kind contributions.

“A whole series of activities will soon be announced to give as many people as possible an opportunity to know how they can be part of Madiba’s legacy … We remain open to receive expressions of interest, including naming rights.”

The future of paediatrics in SA

More paediatric medical staff will be produced in South Africa through the hospital, where nurses will play a critical, central role in operations. “This hospital will fill a huge gap in the country’s health care system and complement other paediatric hospitals,” Mkhabela said.

The trust plans to create a regional training platform that will drive specialised paediatric care all over South Africa.