Baby boxes 'not so shocking'

2007-10-04 12:25

Georgina Guedes

I must confess that I am not disturbed by the "shock" photos of babies in cardboard boxes that appeared on the front page of The Star newspaper earlier this week.

It is not that I am callous and unfeeling, it's just that I looked closely at those babies and I could see that they were clean, clothed and covered with warm blankets, and so I wasn't too concerned about their wellbeing.

I think that it's tragic that the largest hospital in the country cannot provide proper beds for newborn infants, but I don't think it's shocking or atrocious or, as some media interviews have suggested, an infringement on human rights.

Babies dying in droves in hospitals - now there's a problem. Unsterilised instruments being used in operations - that's shocking. Patients with broken jaws waiting for hours in queues for an operation only to be told to come back next week - atrocious.


Healthy babies sleeping blissfully unaware in cardboard boxes - not so much. Although, since cardboard boxes are a dime a dozen, it would probably better to limit the numbers of babies per box to one, even if they are keeping each other warm.

Baragwanath's baby mortality rate is only slightly higher than the national average. The number of stillborn babies is lower. While "only slightly higher" is still unacceptable and bears investigation, I don't think it's the cardboard boxes that are doing it.

It is the other details, further down in the story, to which we should be turning our fervour. The idea of mothers giving birth on mattresses bloody from the previous birthing; of newly admitted mothers in labour packed together on five beds in the centre of a room because of bed shortages are far more worthy of the outrage of a nation.

It's the heightened sensitivity around anything to do with babies that irks me. Of course they are precious, to their parents and because they represent the future of our nation, species or whatever, but the real human rights abuses are happening elsewhere, in the violence, rapes and murders taking place every day.

Mocking the real issue

For radio stations to bandy about "human rights abuses" when applied to healthy sleeping babies in unconventional bedding is to make a mockery of the real issues facing our country.

However, since there is such heightened sensitivity around babies, to use them as a symbol for the rallying call to improve conditions in the Baragwanath maternity unit is, I suppose, effective.

I just think that a far more effective image, that drills down to the core of the problem, would be those mothers crammed onto rusty bloody beds for the duration of what should be a joyous event in their lives. Now there's a human rights abuse.

And I would replace many things at Baragwanath, like much-needed drip counters and adult beds, or fill the one fifth of the healthcare posts going vacant at the hospital before turning my attention to the cardboard boxes.

  • Georgina Guedes is a freelance journalist. Her aunt slept in a shoebox after she was born because she was so small - she's OK.

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    • Cate - 2007-10-04 12:55

      Agree with you. There is a big rot in the system. Who makes stupid decisions regarding the allocation of health budget monies? Who is accountable? Surely the proper functioning of hospitals and the provision of necessary equipment takes absolute priority over refurbishing MEC boardrooms etc etc? Why are things not changing?

    • L c - 2007-10-04 12:58

      Hi Those babes were sleeping peacefully and covered warmly in those blankets, But if one of them happens to be a sickly baby or have a cold, then the other babies are infected as well. Think of all the places that boxes are used. usually stored in store room etc but boxes go hand in hand with dust because of the places that their used. Now if the box situatuion carries on those sickly babies will infect normal babies and guess what?- it will spread like wild fire. What if it was ur Child????

    • KoosS - 2007-10-04 13:01

      How do you do 6 births per bed per day!!! And then the big bosses spend a million redoing their boardroom.

    • Anonymous - 2007-10-04 13:03

      well said!

    • Lorinda - 2007-10-04 13:03

      I agree, when I was born all the hospital incubators & cots were full & I got a comfy drawer. And I think I turned out just fine!

    • Chez - 2007-10-04 13:08

      When I heard about the cardboard box babies, I was upset, but I was also of the opinion that so long as the babies had blankets and the boxes weren't filthy, they were fine. Unless they needed incubators, of course. Where a baby sleeps doesn't matter to the baby - so long as it's a happy place, and there's food and warmth. A cardboard box is infinitely better than a pit toilet or a muddy puddle on the side of a road.

    • A DJ - 2007-10-04 13:13

      I agree to an extent. It's not the boxes that are shocking everyone but the poor manner in which our health care is being managed. And that comes directly from our R450,000 liver.

    • May - 2007-10-04 13:14

      Thanks Georgina for your no-nonsense approach and this valuable article on where the focus should be - can someone forward this to Dr Beetroot please? Babies getting infected with HIV because of stupidity and incompetence - now that really gets me going! My sister gave birth in a government hospital and had to spend the first two nights holding onto her precious bundle of joy in a narrow cot without a mattress or security rail. Rather babies in boxes than falling out of bed!

    • robyn - 2007-10-04 13:22

      Very well said Georgina. It is everything else that matters so much more. If Thabo had a daughter (does he?) let her give birth on a previously bloodied mattress. Do our leaders simply not see the shocking state of the health facilities of our nation. Would they take an international medical team on a spontaneous look-see tour of these hospitals. Nah.

    • Anon - 2007-10-04 13:26

      It's not the babies in boxes that is the real issue. What is shocking is the fact that hospitals are in such states. Understaffed all the issues. It is supposed to be a place where people heal, not die.

    • May - 2007-10-04 13:26

      I on the other hand was fortunate enough to give birth in at a Mediclinic hospital. I had a private room complete with small lounge and separate bathroom (the one perk allowed to staff members). And I could hand baby in at the nursery for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Round the clock midwives who were warm and friendly took care of all our needs. Three meals a day chosen from a menu... I actually felt guilty until I realised that I had paid for it! Everyone is entitled to basic good care.

    • Leigh - 2007-10-04 13:35

      Amen to that!

    • b. dessena - 2007-10-04 13:54

      as a paramedic,my obstectrics pracs were done at bara,the babies get good treatment,with the minimal staff,yes mothers are crammed into wards and its like watching a production line. What got me was the the fact that we were not allowed to activily resus babies who were unedera kilogram at birth because there were not enough incubators. It went against everything in me as amedic to just standby and watcgha baby struggle and die. I say more cardboard boxes if it means getting more incubators

    • mm - 2007-10-04 14:01

      agree 100%. just a caution to whoever is responsible to this practical solution: boxes are permeable, they will absorb any fluids (therefore germs) they come in contact with and should only be used once.

    • GATVOL - 2007-10-04 14:16

      You are right , instead of doing something about our poor state of hospitals , our greedy and corrupt goverment officials are just pocketing and wasting all taxpayers money. I wish them all a very painful death and torment in their graves

    • Marga - 2007-10-04 14:31

      All about sensation! Many a time we need to improvise,clean blankets and comfortable, so why the misleading lines?Yes, to prevent disease spreading, "recycle" the boxes. A HUGE pity our minister of health believe that she is living in a perfect world, where a liver is acquired by snapping a finger. Maybe if the goverment open their eyes, and really get involved with the people LIVING in SA, things "may" improve. To Improvising South Africans: more of you are needed.

    • Sonny - 2007-10-04 14:33

      Theres the problem right there...

    • MP3 - 2007-10-04 14:33

      What's interesting to me is that the media has only brought pictures to the public now. Why not earlier when the whole thing affected the country not only health wise and political uproar in the ANC. Why the delayed reaction by the media to go and see what all the fuss was about? I was quite surprised when no photo's and reports of the media's own investigations never turned up in the papers. Just political jabbing at leaders. Talk about avoiding the issue! Why now? Can anyone give me an answer that doesn't wreak of lipservice 101?

    • JR - 2007-10-04 14:48

      My father was born in 1939, several months pre-maturely; his twin brother died at birth. He slept in a shoebox, on cotton wool, smeared with olive oil, next to the Essie stove, for the first few months of his life. Sounds strange, but that was how they survived - they made a plan! Just like those poor nurses at Bara who wants to serve, and has no other option.

    • Not so shocked - 2007-10-04 15:07

      Those babies looked very comfy in their little boxes. You must see the maternity section at the Frere Hospital!!! My sister-in-law booked herself out the day after her op because it's so disgusting & filthy!

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