The Dream for better health care for mothers and children in Central South Africa – Prof Andre Venter

It all began about 9 years ago when we, as the department of Paediatrics and Child Health of the Faculty of Health Science, University of the Free State, realised that if we did not take drastic steps to find third stream funding to improve our technological support of infants and paediatric patients, that we would not be able to sustain the quality of care that we had envisaged for our patients.

We therefore launched the children’s Beds of Hope project with the aim of generating funds to upgrade, in particular the Intensive care units for infants and children, but also many other areas in our department where children are cared for.

We therefore launched the children’s Beds of Hope project with the aim of generating funds to upgrade, in particular the Intensive care units for infants and children, but also many other areas in our department where children are cared for.

We were extremely fortunate at that time that we were able, with the generous support of the Carl and Emily Fuchs foundation, the Carte Blanche “make a difference campaign” and SANRAL to raise well in excess of thirty million rand. We were able to not only upgrade many of our existing intensive care facilities, but also attend to structural matters such as air conditioning, ceilings and lighting as well as improving many other amenities for our patients.

Since then it has become clear that our current facilities serving mothers, infants and children will not be adequate to meet the needs of the changing demands of caring for these vulnerable members of our community in the future. One of the difficulties that we are faced with at present is a matter of physical space. The current facilities also have not been designed to cope with the modern requirements for health care delivery for mothers, infants and children, nor do they address the modern philosophy of care.

With this in mind, we embarked on process dialogues to try and find a model through which we could develop a better space, structure, management and care for these patients.

After many years of consultations with leaders at the University of the Free State and the Department of Health of the Free State, but also with many private companies and individuals, we decided that the first important achievement would be the establishment of a foundation to act as a facilitator and a generator of third stream funding to improve services for mothers, infant and children primarily within the academic health complex, but ultimately for the entire Central South Africa.

We were extremely fortunate to be awarded a generous grant from the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation, to establish what is now called the Mother and Child Academic Hospital Foundation. The seed money was made available to establish the foundation as a legitimate entity with good governance through the three founder directors. We were also able to establish a marketable and visible brand through collaboration with an excellent branding company, Shift Joe Public.

It became clear as we looked at the mother and child health landscape in Central South Africa that this foundation would have to be involved at many different levels and therefore there are three distinct areas of commitment.

1. Children’s Wing Project

The first is actually a continuation of the Ethos of the Beds of Hope. It seeks to upgrade facilities, both aesthetically, physically and technologically to improve maternal and child health care in existing facilities of the academic platform of the UFS.

2. Make the first 1000 days count Initiative

The second focus area is to support this initiative of the University of the Free State, which has a much broader vision. In this initiative, specific projects and programmes will be funded ranging from primary health care (nutrition, child development, immunisation, post-delivery family planning etc.) right up to tertiary care (paediatric cardiology). Many of them may also have a research component.

3. The Free State Mother and Child Academic Hospital. (FS MACAH)

After much consultation we realised that the best model for a free standing, comprehensive FS MACAH would be that of a privately owned and managed hospital. The University of the Free State kindly made land available, right next to the medical school for the building of such a hospital. We have been looking for a company to take this matter forward, a company that shares our enthusiasm and understands all the complexities of this problem and has given some thought to innovative ways to make this a sustainable venture. An Independent Selection Committee has been appointed to drive this process and to select the right company which can make this dream come true.

We are very excited about this project, because if we can get this right, it will be the ideal model that marries academic medicine with private enterprise and setting up a system that will be ideally suited for the philosophy and even the practical implications of the NHI.

The MACAH foundation is the “Foundation of care”. A foundation of and for the future. We hope that with the support of all the role players as well as benefactors to help us realise many of these projects that this is going to be one of the great success stories of Central South Africa, which for many reasons has always been a somewhat neglected part of our Country.