"There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
These were the words of the late former statesman Nelson Mandela in a heartfelt call for the country to protect and love its children.
Mandela seemingly lived up to his words by founding the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which initiated the process to build the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) in Parktown, Joburg; the construction of which began in 2014.
NMCH, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, is a R1 billion, 200-bed specialist paediatric facility with a stated aim of providing family and child-centred care to the Southern African region.
It is only the second specialist paediatric hospital in the region after the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. Dr Mandisa Maholwana, the hospital’s chief executive enthused about the honour she said she had for being entrusted with bringing Mandela’s dream to fruition in the one year that she has been at the helm of the hospital.
Maholwana said the hospital had roughly 200 staff members, among whom are 20 paediatric specialists.
“As you can appreciate, we are a super specialist facility. The country as a whole does not have enough specialists from doctors to nurses. “So, we will continue to recruit at an acceptable pace so that we can continue to deliver more services to the children,” she said.
Any child from birth to the age of 16 who has been referred correctly to the hospital will be taken care of; whether the parents have the money or not, Maholwana said. She also explained that 16 was the age limit for new patients, but if patients had already been in the system for certain conditions, they help them still.
Maholwana said that in the year that NMCH has cared for children, the hospital had been rolling out services in phases such as opening radiology, cardiology (heart), neurosurgery (nervous system/brain), units as well as renal or kidney services. She added that it was the opening up of these critical units – some of which were opened ahead of the deadline, such as the neurosurgical department – that have made her and her team proud over the past year.
“For us to be able to open our ICU and start assisting with the capacity for ICU beds of which there are 29; from newborns to slightly older children, this has been a serious achievement for us.
“I am a mother myself and love children. And like any other mother, if my child is sick I would want to ensure that they got the best health care – even if one couldn’t afford it,” Maholwana said.
Her views were echoed by Sandra Nchabeleng, a professional nurse in ICU. When The Star visited the unit, Nchabeleng was lovingly attending to a six-day-old baby girl, who had been in ICU for five days after arriving at the hospital with severe breathing difficulties and being diagnosed with hyaline membrane disorder – infant respiratory distress syndrome.
“I love my work and I do get affected when I have to deal with cases such as these. You have to put yourself in the mother’s shoes; if she was my baby, how would I want a nurse to look after her? “I nurse these babies as if they were my own,” said Nchabeleng, a mother of two.
Also in the ICU was a 23-year-old mother, Minenhle Lushaba, who was at the bedside of her then seven-week-old son, Esihle. Lushaba said Esihle had been at NMCH since birth with what she said was a debilitating heart problem. The proud mother of one said her son was recuperating well after undergoing successful heart surgery.
Esihle was about to be moved to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital to complete his recovery. Lushaba said the hospital’s accommodation facilities for parents had the biggest effect on her son getting stronger.
“I have been living at the hospital throughout my son’s treatment, which has allowed me to be close and bond with him. This is why Esihle has become stronger, because he can feel that his mother is here with him – he can feel my love,” Lushaba added.
It is this holistic and family-centred care, Maholwana contended, which the hospital seeks to provide. The chief executive also said the artwork, fables, toys found throughout the hospital, as well as educational programmes the children are given in the wards, were geared to stimulate patients to help their recovery.
Asked what she hoped NMCH would achieve in the future, Maholwana said the hospital planned to roll out more services in the future, even though they wouldn’t be able to reach the capacity of major academic hospitals.
“But we want to be able to say that in those areas where we provide services, we can demonstrate excellence and contribute to changing mindsets in terms of research work. “We want to contribute towards the knowledge pool within South Africa and, possibly, the continent too. “As much as Tata Madiba set out to have a children’s hospital, we can all extend on his dream to say that we contribute to Africa’s children.”