Nurturing smiles in the midst of a pandemic

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The new normal of practising social distancing and connecting with loved ones virtually has not stopped those at the forefront of caring for the vulnerable.

Four years into its existence, the Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Hospital (NMHC) continues to take in critically ill children, helping to turn frowns into smiles. Named after South Africa’s founding father, the hospital echoes the former President’s love for children.

“The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital remains a facility where no child is turned away due to their socio-economic standing. As an institution, we also continue to serve the community around us providing quality health care to critically ill children,” says the hospital’s Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Nonkululeko Boikhutso.

As a childhood cancer survivor, Dr Boikhutso understands first-hand the importance of a caring environment for a sick child and their family.

The hospital came about as a result of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust (NMCHT) mandate to  raise R1 billion to build a specialist paediatric hospital providing tertiary care to the Southern African region.  Initiated by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the hospital follows on Mandela’s 2005 wish for improved medical care for children.

While the former statesman passed away a few years before the hospital admitted its first patients in June 2017, the Parktown, Johannesburg based hospital espouses the high regard he had for children.

Radiology, neurosurgery, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery as well as dialysis are among the services offered by the state-of-the-art facility. It also recently accommodated families, patients and staff of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital following a fire that broke out in April. The fire forced some patients to be transferred to other facilities within Gauteng.

“This is the vision that Mr Mandela had for this hospital – to be of service to children and our country,” she says as the country commemorates Mandela Month in July.

The journey to its fourth birthday, has not been without its challenges and successes.

 “Every year has its set of challenges and successes for the fairly new facility that’s constantly learning and aiming to refine its processes. We have managed to reduce waiting lists for diagnostic imaging where children had been waiting for months to gain access to these.

“We have over 40 hospitals across the country in provinces outside of Gauteng such as Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and as far as the Eastern Cape who are now able to refer children to our hospital for services such as cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery which are limited in the country,” she says.

While the hospital continues to train and upskill doctors and nurses in various paediatric related health fields, the country still has a shortage of these skills. This in turn, has a direct impact “on the hospital and healthcare system."

In order to reach as many children as possible, the hospital continues to raise funds despite

the current donor climate challenge. To commemorate its fourth anniversary, the hospital launched a fundraising campaign called #ServeLikeMadiba and “Give like They’re Yours”. 

“This is aimed at encouraging our supporters to help us raise funds in order for us to reach more children in need of the services offered at NMCH. We are also asking the public to donate toys and books, which keep our patients entertained during their admission at our hospital. This also includes essential items such as toothbrushes and sanitary towels for many of our patients who travel from outside the province and require these items during their stay with us.”

The hospital has set up a drop-off zone where the public can drop off these items.

 Due to infection prevention and control, the hospital has requested the public to bring brand new items and to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions when dropping off items.

The campaign was inspired by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

“As its flagship project, NMCH has adopted it to encourage our own community to follow in the footsteps of our founder and heed the call to be of service to one’s community.” The campaign includes fundraising activities during Mandela Month.

The hospital has had to strengthen its Infection Prevention and Control policies and measures to protect staff, families and patients as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Dr Boikhutso adds that the procurement of personal protective equipment is a priority and continues to place a strain “on our budgeting, hence the need to also continue fundraising as a hospital.”  Promoting the mental health of employees has also been critical to ensure that staff are equipped with psychological and emotional support they need.

Among other challenges faced is the need to educate the public that NMCH is a referral facility and that this is the only point of admission to the facility. Since the fire at Charlotte Maxeke, the hospital has been receiving many walk-ins.

Many of these are urgent cases, which can get the appropriate services at other surrounding hospitals with emergency units.

Having served as the hospital’s Clinical Services Director, Dr Boikhutso stepped into the role of interim CEO on 1 May.

“It is an incredible honour to continue to serve the vision of this hospital, including in my previous and current position. My aim is to inspire our staff to continue to do the important and wonderful work they have been doing and to ensure that our families also continue to reap the benefits of a unique and quality service regardless of their background,” she says.

The former President would have been proud of the hospital’s achievements. -