On 22 August 2012, a ‘ground-breaking’ ceremony organised by the Children’s Hospital Trust (CHT) took place at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch to celebrate the fact that they had raised enough funds to begin construction on a new Centre for Childhood Infections Diseases on the Hospital campus.
The Hospital is the only referral hospital in Southern Africa that is dedicated entirely to children. They treat the sickest children from the poorest communities. The Trust was founded in 1994, at a time when the Hospital was facing closure due to a lack of funds. Their mission is to increase awareness of the extraordinary work done by the Hospital and to raise funds so that it can continue to help children throughout South Africa and beyond. (You can get an insight into the kind of services offered by this wonderful Hospital here and here.)
Funding is used for purchasing essential equipment, conducting critical research and presenting training courses, while also expanding the paediatric healthcare projects and upgrading facilities. The Trust prides itself on the fact that every single cent donated is actually used to fund their various activities – nothing is sidelined into covering administrative or operational expenses. The people working at the Trust are clearly passionate about their work and there always seems to be much happening there, as revealed by a scroll through their frequently updated Facebook page. Their public relations activities are always impressively well-organised, with representatives of the media, photographers, journalists, etc., in attendance.
I attended the event on 22 August 2012 to take a couple of photos for the Pinelands Muse. (Have a look at the latest Muse of September – Issue no. 22 – and you will find my photo on page 19.) All the invited guests and media reps gathered at the offices of the Trust for a couple of speeches. Helen White, Communications Manager, welcomed us to the function and introduced the three speakers, Prof Brian Eley and Prof Heather Zar of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and Minister Theuns Botha, the MEC for Health in the Western Cape.
Helen explained that the Trust had managed to raise over R20 million thanks to the generous support of a whole range of donors. These include churches and corporates, as well as a legacy gift from the estate of a Cape Town businessman, and funds raised by a group of adventurous bikers who rode from Cape Town to Singapore in January to April this year – see 4Bikes4Singapore. (The Pinelands Muse of September 2012 – Issue no. 22 – covered their journey on page 18.) These donations will allow them to begin construction of a Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases at the Hospital:
“Presently, the Hospital has one of few South African clinic units providing tertiary-level care for children with infectious diseases, and this new Centre will provide the premises for researchers and specialist clinicians to operate as a combined unit. …
The CCID will centralise the activities of the Hospital’s existing Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Clinical Research units.” (from the official media release)
The Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit treats children with complex or advanced infectious diseases, such as HIV infections, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and hospital-acquired infections. They also offer training for sub-specialists in these fields.
The Clinical Research Unit, as the name suggests, is a training and research hub for child health specialists; the cutting edge clinical research conducted here has led to advances in preventing, diagnosis and managing common childhood illnesses, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and asthma.
The purpose of the new and dedicated Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases is to combine clinical, training and research activities in one venue, thus making it easier to coordinate these different activities and to operate more efficiently and effectively.
“The expanded clinic space will allow more patients to be treated on an outpatient basis and increase the capabilities for mentoring community-based health professionals in the Western Cape.” (from the official media release)
Professor Brian Eley, Head of the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit:
“Given that more than 50% of under-5 mortality in South Africa is due to infectious diseases, the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit has prioritised the improvement of clinical care for children with infectious diseases. A direct consequence of this approach has been the reduction of HIV-associated mortality at our Hospital by approximately 70% between 2002 and 2011.” (from the official media release)
Professor Heather Zar, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health:
“The development of the new expanded Clinical Research Unit is a most exciting initiative that will enable the Hospital and the Department of Paediatrics to be at the forefront of clinical research, developing new strategies to improve child health. The focus will be on the most important health problems affecting African children. The Unit will support clinical research across a number of sites and levels of healthcare. The potential for integrating clinical and laboratory research and public health aspects is especially exciting.” (from the official media release)
After the speeches, it was time to venture outside – luckily the skies had cleared – and to pose for group photos at the very site where the new Centre will be built. Currently, it is just an open piece of lawn, surrounded on three sides by two-storey buildings.
It is quite extraordinary to think that this will, in the near future, be transformed into a brand new state-of-the-art facility thanks to the dedication, hard work and generosity of individuals who believe so strongly in making a positive difference to the lives of the children of this country. No doubt, the impact of the research and training they will provide here, will ripple outwards and affect children on the rest of the African continent too.