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Keeping the legacy of Nelson Mandela alive

A passion for public health is what drives Dr Nonkululeko Boikhutso, the clinical manager of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH).

Dr Boikhutso said she is inspired by seeing an improvement in the public sector’s health standards.

The 37-year-old is also motivated by the values of the man after which the NMCH is named.

Having worked in public hospitals such as Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Charlotte Maxeke Hospital she said she always knew that she wanted to make a change in the public health arena.

“My passion is in the public sector. I want to serve communities that don’t have access to services,” she said.

Born in Soweto, Dr Boikhutso has been with NMCH since its opening in 2017.

Her passion for public health was sparked by two traumatic events in her childhood.

When she was nine years old, she was in the Johannesburg CBD with her mother when she was injured in a bomb blast at the Carlton Centre.

A few years later, at age 14, she was diagnosed with an ovarian germ cell tumour, which she suspects may have been caused by chemicals from the bomb.

On both occasions, she was treated in public hospitals. Her experiences ignited her desire to enter the public healthcare sector but with a special focus on paediatrics.

A love for children

Dr Boikhutso adds that just like former President Mandela, she too loves children and has a passion for working with children. This has been her guiding force in every element of her career.

Dr Boikutso adds that children offer a refreshing and honest view of life.

She said NMCH helps children to live full and happy lives.

“The vision of the hospital is to give every child a chance to live and I think we have a family- and child-centred approach. We are very collaborative; when we treat a child, the parents are there. We discuss with them what is happening to their child.”

She said for hospitals like NMCH to succeed, society needs to play a part by volunteering their skills and knowledge.

“Support can be non-financial. We have a volunteer programme that is run by the hospital trust and members of the public’s participation is invited. There are various things you can do, even if you don’t want to be in the wards. We also welcome financial donations,” she said.

“I think, most importantly, we want government to continue to support us. We treat complex health issues which are expensive.”

A mammoth task

With a staff of 92, Dr Boikhutso oversees all of the hospital’s clinical services. Her primary job is to ensure the smooth running of the neurosurgery, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, general paediatric surgery, nephrology (dialysis), critical care, anaesthesia and radiology departments, as well as the pharmacy.

While Dr Boikhutso reports to the CEO of the 200-bed hospital, she has 11 people that report directly to her.

“My job is making sure that I have the correct people with the correct skills capable of delivering a high-standard of service. I also have to make sure they have the right tools and that they perform optimally.

"As a quality control measure, we have set up committees to identify and address challenges that impede service delivery," she said.

She added that if mortality meetings raise any concerns, audits are done.

As part of her management approach she still interacts with patients to keep a finger on the pulse of the hospital.

“I like to know what is happening on the ground. Although I spend a lot of my time in meetings and talking to people in my office, I like to see what is happening on the wards and therefore often participate in ward rounds.”

She said the hospital specialises in treating serious illnesses such as congenital heart problems, hydrocephalus (liquid on the brain) and renal failure, among others. “We are a sub-specialist hospital, meaning we treat rare and complicated conditions.”

Sector interaction

Her job goes beyond the hospital’s corridors as she often has to interact with the Gauteng Department of Health, universities, representatives of other hospitals and NMCH role-players.

She adds that as part of her job she has to build good relations with the hospitals that refer patients to them. This helps avoid unnecessary referrals, which lead to NMCH being overburdened.

She said the hospital is also building partnerships with other children’s hospitals, including the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, the CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the United States of America (USA).

“Red Cross is our big brother hospital,” she said, explaining that it is an expert in paediatric intensive care nurse training. “We hope to send NMCH staff members there for advanced training.”

She said NMCH has also made international connections, particularly with hospitals in Canada. These hospitals provided valuable input during the planning stages of NMCH.

Thanks to international partnerships such as these, NMCH doctors and nurses go to the USA, China and Canada for training.

The development of more children’s hospitals in South Africa is necessary, Dr Boikhutso believes. These hospitals would serve to ensure that children get the best treatment. As things stand, hospitals tend to prioritise adults, she said, explaining that this is particularly prevalent when it comes to prioritising operations.

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