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When single mother Kelebogile Sephiri had to make the journey from Mafikeng to Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto‚ to get help for her young baby who had part of a battery lodged in her throat‚ she had no idea where she would stay or how long she’d be there for.

A few months ago‚ she would probably have slept on the floor in the hospital wherever she could find a spot but now‚ thanks to the newly built parental sleep-over facility‚ she has a warm bed with everything she needs while she waits for her daughter to recover.

The single mom said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“I was worried if I was gonna sleep on the couch (benches in the waiting room) if this place didn’t exist. Because I stay far and I don’t know anyone here. I’m so happy because I’m sleeping well‚ I’m eating well. It’s nice and clean. Now we can stay in this hotel!”

The new parental sleep-over unit was an initiative by the non-profit group Surgeons for Little Lives.

Chairman of the board of the organisation and the head of paediatric surgery at Wits university‚ Prof Jerome Loveland‚ said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We decided because we see so many patients from far away that we needed to include a facility for moms or dads or grandparents that were from far and had the need where they could come lodge so that they were closer to their kids.”

The 24-bed unit‚ which is above the new paediatric ward‚ has a kitchen‚ ablution facilities and a place for parents to do laundry.

Sephiri has already been staying there for five days. Her daughter Rebaone was in ICU but is recovering well now.

Another mother‚ also from Mafikeng‚ Katherine Tau‚ brought her son‚ who has tuberculosis‚ to the hospital for a lung operation.

She said she was completely surprised and thrilled that she had a place to sleep.

The only ‘payment’ that parents make is taking care of the facility’s laundry while they stay there.

Loveland said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We haven’t looked at it specifically but I’d say about 40% of our patients are from outside of our immediate drainage area.

“Mafikeng should actually refer to Pretoria. That whole system has been bypassed and they’ve come to Bara. It just tells a story of the load that Bara takes and the need for the unit here and for this type of facility.

“The only other paediatric surgical centres in the northern half of the country are in Pretoria. There are two centres in Pretoria. The next one is Bloemfontein and that’s it.”

The paediatric unit at Baragwanath is the biggest in the country‚ with about 800 outpatients a month and up to 10 new admissions a day.

Previously patients were treated in a two-roomed asbestos shack with no running water‚ ablution facilities or air conditioner.

Dr Christopher Westgarth-Taylor‚ consultant paediatric surgeon‚ said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We had two beds and we have about six or seven paediatric surgeons looking at patients at a time in this one room.

“We can definitely treat more people but that’s not the point. We are now treating them with dignity. We’ve now got a place where they can get undressed without 10 other people around them. The mothers can tell you in private that the child’s HIV positive.

“They [the parents] would sleep on benches‚ but there was no place for them to stay. If you went to our ward where our mothers would try and sit but there was no place for them. There was no space for them between beds.”

Alternatively parents would drop their children off at the hospital and come visit on weekends or come back only when the child was discharged.

The dream for a new paediatric unit with a sleep over facility for parents began five years ago.

Loveland said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We knew that money is available but people would never donate because that money would go either to the department of health or to the university and donors couldn’t see the transparency in that. A group of us as paediatric surgeons‚ together with generally interested members of the public‚ set up Surgeons for Little Lives with the view of raising money in a transparent and an audited fashion to improve the care that we give our kids‚ to the paediatric surgical community in Gauteng.”

Within a month of launching the project the capital was raised from a single donor‚ Glaxosmithkline‚ a pharmaceutical company.

Demolition began in February last year and the structure was completed by the end of November. In total it cost about R17-million which was well under budget as many contractors had included discounts in their price because of it being a charity project.

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