Nelson Mandela is acknowledged as one of the great political and moral leaders of modern times.

His legacy is extraordinary - from the 1950s, he was instrumental in formation of the ANC Youth League and the fight against apartheid. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he spent 27 years in jail, emerging to negotiate the transition from the repressive apartheid regime, to the democratic, non-racial South Africa. He was the country’s first democratically elected President, and amongst his many honours and accolades, he was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (the country has four Nobel Peace Prize winners - FW de Klerk, who was awarded the prize jointly with Mandela in 1993, Albert Luthuli (1961) and Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984). His spirit lives on in the continued strength of democracy in South Africa, and the resilience of his compatriots, and he continues to inspire people the world over.

Mandela was famously fond of children, and they of him. He has written that one of the great sadnesses of prison life - in addition, of course, to being separated from his own family - was in never seeing or hearing children. On his release from he took great joy in children, and interest in their welfare.

Train image - NMCH

He was a great supporter of children’s causes and, in 1995, established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, by donating a third of his salary throughout his term in office (he also encouraged friends and others to do the same). Launching the fund, he began his speech with the words, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) in Johannesburg is a legacy project that will honour the spirit of Mandela, and benefit South Africa’s children for years to come. This state-of-the-art pediatric hospital is one of two specialist pediatric hospitals in South Africa (the other being Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town), and one of only five on the continent. It is also by far the newest, and with the latest equipment and technology, in some cases leapfrogging previous-generation tech to provide care and services available nowhere else in the region.

Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, a flagship project of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, is the realization of a long-held dream of Nelson Mandela’s. Plans for the hospital were announced in 2005. In July 2009, as part of his birthday celebrations, Mr Mandela undertook the site dedication.

Through the efforts of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, South Africa’s Department of Health, as well as local and international partners and donors, the private sector and individuals, in an international campaign that raised R1 billion. The hospital opened its doors in December 2016. The first patients were admitted in June this year.

NMCH - Waiting room

NMCH is also unique in terms of its healthcare model, servicing public and private patients. In line with the ethos of the hospital, and Mandela’s vision, no child will be turned away because of an inability to pay.

Child-centred design

There are no dingy corridors and no institutional green paint at the new Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) in Johannesburg. The hospital’s child-centred and family-orientated ethos permeates the architecture, design, decoration, and facilities. The space is airy and non-threatening, from the colourful wall-coverings based on children’s drawings, to the peaceful gardens, to the play areas, right down to the cartoon figures that adorn the MRI machines. There’s even an in-house radio station, and on the top floor the warm and welcoming Ronald McDonald House accommodates families from far away whose children are being treated at this hospital.

The 200-bed, 10-theatre specialist paediatric, academic and tertiary referral hospital is opening in phases, explains CEO Dr Mandisa Maholwana. Before patients were admitted, the NMCH team and their partners from SickKids International, Johns Hopkins International and GE, ran training and simulation sessions, covering the entire patient journey from admission to discharge.

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Looking forward

The first department, radiology, started seeing patients this year, focusing particularly on MRIs and CAT scans, “Some of our patients had been waiting 6 months or even a year for a scan in public hospitals. We are seeing radiology patients in increasing numbers – we estimate over 400 by the end of the year – which also helps to clear the backlog at our referring hospitals,” she says.

Meanwhile, other departments are being set up and staffed up, doing simulations, and getting ready to accept patients. Dialysis, cardiology and intensive care will come on line soon. When fully operational, the hospital will provide cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, haematology, oncology, nephrology, pulmonology, craniofacial surgery, neurosciences and general paediatric surgery services.

As a referral hospital, NMCH only treats cases that have been referred from other hospitals. Currently, it is taking patients referred from two large public hospitals nearby – Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital – but it will increasingly service other hospitals in South Africa and even further afield, significantly improving Southern Africa’s capacity to provide ultra-specialised paediatric care.

An important aspect of the NMCH is the role it will play in developing and training pediatric medical specialists. NHCH Trust partners with academic institutions and has already awarded over 260 nursing bursaries. This will be hugely beneficial in a country and region where specialist medical skills are much in demand.

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Nelson Mandela did not live to see the opening of the state-of-the-art hospital which bears his name. Mandela’s widow Graca Machel – herself a staunch advocate of children’s rights - is the chair of the hospital’s trust and remains committed to ensuring the continued success of the remarkable hospital he envisioned. And the children of South Africa and the Southern African region will be the beneficiaries of this remarkable legacy project.

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