Still a long way to go

2012-11-24 10:14

Unicef’s latest child mortality findings demonstrate the need for world-class paediatric healthcare in southern Africa

The recent release of Unicef’s 2012 Child Mortality Report has once again cast a harsh light on the inadequacies of the health system in Africa and, in particular, the extent to which it is failing our children.

In 1990, the number of deaths of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa was 178 per 1 000 live births. By last year, that figure dropped 38.8% to 109 per 1 000.

The UN Millennium Development Goal target is 31 deaths per 1 000 live births by 2015.

While it is true we have turned around the frightening trend of an increase in under-five mortality rates, we are still far behind the rest of the world in terms of the rate and number of under-five deaths in our region.

South Africa’s under-five mortality rate has fallen relatively slowly in the past two decades compared to much of the rest of the world, according to the SA Institute of Race Relations.

Globally, child mortality has been declining owing to advances in healthcare and general living conditions.

Paediatric healthcare in southern Africa is light years behind the world standard. We only have one fully functioning paediatric facility, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

The work they are doing cannot be dismissed but it remains impossible for them to meet the health demands of southern Africa’s approximately 38 million children, let alone the tens of millions of others in sub-Saharan Africa, on their own.

We have always measured ourselves against the best: the best Constitution in the world, the best stadiums, and so on.Well, is it not time we made the same comparisons when it comes to our children? After all, they represent our collective future.

Germany, which has a similar number of people but an aging population, has 19 children’s hospitals, most of which are centres of excellence. Canada has 23 children’s hospitals.

It is a sad fact that even the two children’s hospitals found in sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya and South Africa) were created by
our colonisers.

Is it not time for a liberated people to take a hard look at how it treats its children?

In the rest of Africa, the need for specialised paediatric hospitals has been acknowledged.

In neighbouring Botswana, the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence demonstrates the dedication to childcare which has become commonplace in the country.

The sentiment expressed by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi recently highlights the need to improve paediatric care.

He said: “It is very worrying that a high number of our children die even before their fifth birthday. Sadly, many of these deaths are caused by diseases that are vaccine-preventable.”

Madiba himself said: “A children’s hospital will be a credible demonstration of the commitment of African leaders to place the rights of children at the forefront. Nothing less would be enough.”

In so saying, he called us all to action. And true to form, Madiba requested the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund champion the establishment of a children’s hospital to serve southern Africa.

This is a facility he envisioned as a centre of excellence that would improve our knowledge base through research and improve care through training.

Madiba’s call was heard by the director-general of health, Precious Matsoso, in her statement that Madiba’s vision and dream will “take us a step closer to further improving the quality of services, strengthening of research and development, and placing children at the forefront of health planning”.

Construction of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital is scheduled to start next year and the hospital is scheduled to start operating in July 2014.

The specialised tertiary institution will have 200 beds and two dedicated intensive-care units. It will lead the way in surgeries and treatment thanks to its centres of excellence that include craniofacial surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, haematology and oncology, general paediatric surgery, pulmonology, nephrology, and neurosciences.

By 2014, we will finally have a second dedicated world-class paediatric facility, something which has become a necessity in the fight against child mortality in southern Africa. (Mkhabela is chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust)

We need your help to build this hospital. Everyone can donate by SMSing “Gift” to 40301 (Ts & Cs apply, SMSes cost R20 each) or by credit card or EFT on our website:

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