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Upping the ante in fight against disease

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Dr Mastoerah Gabrile treats a child in the infectious diseases ward at the Red Cross Childrens Hospital in the city Picture: Thomas Holder

Cape Town’s Red Cross Children’s Hospital is upping the ante in its fight against major child killers tuberculosis (TB) and diarrhoea by building a multimillion-rand specialist infectious disease clinic.

The Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust – the fundraising arm of the hospital – has revealed its plan to build a R30 million Centre for Childhood Infectious Disease that will provide specialised treatment to seriously ill children.

The centre, which will house the hospital’s existing paediatric infectious disease unit and the clinical research unit, is also set to be the key research hub that will focus on childhood diseases and the training of specialists.

Speaking during a handover of a R1-million donation from Dettol SA towards the building of the project, Louise Driver, the trust’s chief executive officer, said the building of the new centre was expected to start in August and would take up to 20 months to complete.

When completed, the centre would include an outpatient clinic for infectious diseases, a research centre and a training centre that would see both paediatricians and other health workers from community clinics trained in infectious diseases treatment.

Driver said the absence of a dedicated space to accommodate the full range of activities of the infectious disease unit made integration of services and communication between the two specialised units difficult.

This, in turn, made patient care more challenging. The new dedicated facility would not only centralise services, but would better co-ordinate the activities of clinicians working in the two units.

Driver said the R1m donation and other pledges would allow the hospital to “continue its impact on the survival of children in southern Africa”.

“The donation that we received will allow us to continue to impact the lives of these sick children and their survival,” she said.

Professor Shaheen Mehtar, head of the academic unit for infection prevention and control at Tygerberg and Stellenbosch University, said that while there were specialised infectious disease centres in many hospitals in SA, none were dedicated to children.

Mehtar said TB and diarrhoea remained major infections that landed many children in hospitals. However, about 80 percent of the infections could easily be avoided by just keeping good hygiene and washing hands.

“There is an urgent need for a large-scale public awareness drive that will teach South Africans that their hygiene has a direct bearing their health,” she said.

Professor Brian Eley, head of the paediatric infection disease unit at Red Cross, said the centre would improve the functionality of the unit, which was scattered around the hospital. “It will allow us to do much more work on the TB front, which I can say is getting out of control. A lot of TB patients that have complications don’t get the attention they need owing to space constraints,” he said.

SA has been criticised for lagging behind in achieving the Millenium Development Goals aimed at ensuring children’s rights to survival, health and development. The country has a mortality rate of 67 for every 1 000 live births compared to 1990, when it was 56 for every 1 000 births.The Millennium Development Goals’ target is 20 deaths for every 1 000 live births. Infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, meningitis, TB and HIV had been blamed for most deaths.

In the Western Cape, almost 80 children (about 37 each year) under five died during the summers of 2009 and 2010 because of diarrhoea. Health authorities have often blamed inadequate hygiene and poor sanitation for the spread of the rotavirus that causes severe gastroenteritis in small children.

In 2005, more than 100 children died of diarrhoea in the province.

Pneumonia is responsible for at least 20 percent of deaths in the country among children under five. This translates to about 40 deaths a day.

At the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, more than 1 700 of the pneumonia cases in 2008 involved children younger than 12 months and 700 involved children between one and five.

Provincial health department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said the latest TB data was from 2010.

“Our records show 23 deaths from 5 966 (0.38 percent) of children under five years old. It is important to note that the TB data system reports on those who died while onTB treatment and not necessarily of TB.

“The number of diarroheal deaths on record for 2010/11 amounts to 86, which is much lower than in 2010 and 2009.”

The consistently lower number of cases compared with 2009/10 was due to the highly successful rotavirus campaign started in mid-2010. - Cape Argus

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