These were the words of Nelson Mandela in a heartfelt plea for the country to love and care for children.
Mandela dreamed of creating a state-of-the art children’s hospital which would be accessible to all children in need from across the region, and a global fund-raising effort ensured it became a reality, with doors opening to the first young patients a year ago this month.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) in Parktown, Joburg, is a R1billion, 200-bed specialist paediatric facility and only the second specialist paediatric hospital after the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
Dr Mandisa Maholwana, the hospital’s chief executive, enthused about the honour of being entrusted with ensuring the success of phasing in services over the past year of the hospital’s life - although from conception to birth has been a longer process.
The hospital has about 200 staff members, among whom are 20 paediatric specialists.
This, Maholwana said, is vital as the country did not have sufficient specialist nurses and doctors in this important field.
“So, we will continue to recruit at an acceptable pace so that we can continue to deliver more services to children,” she said.
Any child from birth to the age of 16 who has been referred appropriately to the hospital will be treated, whether the parents have money to pay or not, Maholwana said.
And, while 16 is the age limit, patients in the system with long-term medical conditions, will continue to be assisted even as they get older and are no longer regarded as children.
Over the past year the NMCH has rolled out its services in phases and now has among its units radiology, cardiology, renal and neurosurgery.
She added that it was the opening up of these critical units - some ahead of deadline, such as the neurosurgical department - that have made her and her team very proud over the last year. “For us to be able to open our ICU and start assisting with the capacity for ICU beds (29); from newborns to slightly older children, this has been an achievement.”
Maholwana is a mother herself, and said if her child was sick, she wanted the best healthcare, and this was what NMCH offered.
Her views were echoed by Sandra Nchabeleng, a nurse in the ICU unit.
On the day of our visit, Nchabeleng, a mother of two, was lovingly attending to a 6-day-old baby girl, who was admitted with severe breathing problems.
“I love my work and I do get affected when I have to deal with cases such as these because I treat the children as if they were my own,” she said.
Also in the ICU department was 23-year-old mother Minenhle Lushaba, watching over her 7-week-old son Esihle who has been at NMCH since birth as he had a heart problem. He was recovering well after heart surgery.
Lushaba said the hospital’s accommodation facilities for parents had the biggest effect in her son getting stronger. “I have been living at the hospital throughout my son’s treatment, which has allowed me to be close to him and bond with him,” she said. “He can feel my love,” Lushaba emphasised.
It is this holistic and family-centred care, Maholwana said, which the hospital seeks to provide.
The chief executive also said the artwork on the walls and the toys, as well as educational programmes for older children, are provided.
Asked what she hoped NMCH would achieve in the future after reaching their one-year milestone, Maholwana said the hospital planned to roll out more services.
They will not have all the facilities of a major academic hospital but in those areas where they do provide services, she wants it to be excellent, and to contribute to research work.
“As much as Tata Madiba set out to have a children’s hospital, we can all extend his dream to say that we contribute to Africa’s children.”