Johannesburg - A private hospital in the Eastern Cape has introduced a state-of the-art system to stop baby theft by ensuring new mothers leave its premises with their babies safely in their arms.
Five years ago, the Life Beacon Bay Hospital in East London was the first in the country to implement BabyMatch, a system which aims to prevent abduction, mismatch and baby-swopping incidents.
The automated structure used as a radio-frequency identification tag tracks infants in real-time mode from the moment of delivery to the time the mother and baby are discharged.
It works distinctively when an attempt is made to tamper with a baby’s tag, when a child goes missing, or is at an unauthorised zone.
In the wake of the Zephany Nurse baby abduction drama, Bruce Janssens, the regional manager of Life Healthcare’s Border-Kei and Port Elizabeth hospitals, said the system was strong and no babies had been snatched from their hospitals.
The system, he said, was unobtrusive to the mother and infant.
“The mother and baby are given matching wrist and ankle bands which are programmed to match one another,” he said.
“If the baby is taken from the unit and the bands have not been deactivated from the system, the alarm for the system is activated and the entire maternity is placed on lockdown.” Janssens said as a result of the lockdown no one could enter or exit the unit until the system was reset. Although the cost of setting up such as system is expensive, Janssens said once installed its maintenance was minimal.
At Joburg’s Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, up to 1 000 babies are born each month.
The hospital’s chief executive, Dr Susan Jordaan, said they had more than 100 cameras installed and a security officer stationed at the entrance of each ward.
In 2007, one baby was kidnapped from Rahima Moosa. Since then, the hospital also conducts thorough checks when a mother is discharged.
“A photo is taken of the baby. Security checks the discharged letter at the gate before they exit,” Jordaan said.
Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital spokeswoman Nkosiyethu Mazibuko said the hospital also had a system in at its maternity wards to ensure children were not stolen.
While some mothers such as Micaela Hunter’s mother have been fortunate to track down their children after their abduction, some have been unsuccessful.
One such person is Lindiwe Vivi of Zonkizizwe informal settlement in Katlehong. In July 2013, Vivi’s baby was taken from the Natalspruit Hospital. After being discharged she left the nursery for a few minutes to go to the bathroom. On returning she found her baby was no longer there.
At the time the Department of Health conducted an investigation into the disappearance of the infant. No outcome of the case was ever given by the department.
Although Vivi's newborn was reported missing, Gauteng Department of Health spokesman Prince Hamnca said Natalspruit had not had theft of babies. At Far East Rand, communications officer Thabile Mnguni said the hospital had not had any incidents in the past two years, adding the premises had an enclosed post natal ward guarded by security officers who implemented strict rules that made it hard for a child to go missing.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how many babies are stolen at Gauteng hospitals in the past two years.
Gauteng police spokeswoman Colonel Noxolo Kweza declined to reveal the statistics, saying they would be issued later this year.