Bernadette Wolhuter

ThE first phase of the extensive renovation of the Addington Children’s Hospital, at Durban’s South Beach, is complete, and the facility is set to open under the new name of the KwaZulu-Natal Children’s Hospital in May.

The provincial government and the KwaZulu-Natal Children’s Hospital Trust are in the process of revamping the structure for use as a public children’s hospital.

Most Durban people know that the building has been dilapidated for some time.

Arthi Ramkissoon, who is the founder of the trust, said the provincial government had responded to an appeal to revamp the hospital after she and her team had noted a gap between the public health sector services being provided and those that were in demand.

“In Africa, there are only four children’s hospitals,” she said, “while in Germany, a country the size of KwaZulu-Natal, there are 23.”

The facility was opened in 1931 and was Africa’s first children’s hospital. Founder Mary Siedle had it written into the property deeds that the institution would cater to children of all races, and for years it provided quality care to children from a wide range of social backgrounds.

But in 1984 it was forced to close owing to lack of funding.

Renovations began in February 2012 and, a year and R17 million later, the former outpatient building looks as good as new.

As it is situated on a 3.5-acre (1.4 hectares) heritage site and surrounded by four heritage buildings, very careful consideration was given to the look and feel of the building.

Neutral colours, as well as natural lighting, were incorporated into its exterior design. Its interior boasts bright colours and signboards decorated with pictures of animals.

The facility was created to house a training centre for health workers, a neuro-developmental assessment unit, and a clinic focused on the needs of adolescents.

Services would also be rendered on a “no-fees basis”, said Ramkissoon.

“My plan is that anyone whose child needs help will be able to access this facility, regardless of whether they are rich or poor.”

The focus is now on the main hospital building, which will soon hold a number of inpatient wards.

“As a heritage building, aspects such as the original stained glass windows and ceramic works of artist Mary Stainbank will be maintained,” said Ramkissoon. She hoped that the external facade, roof, wiring and plumbing would be completed within a year.

The entire project was expected to take five years to complete, and would cost between R250m and R300m. The provincial government was committed to contributing R50m, and the shortfall would be made up by fund-raising.

But, she added, it would be worth it in the end when her vision of a hospital that was neither hi-tech nor expensive, but provided comprehensive care to children, was realised.