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Digging deep to Prevent, Treat and Cure Infectious Diseases

The Children’s Hospital Trust has raised over R20million to begin construction of a Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Presently, the Hospital has one of few South African clinical units providing tertiary-level care for children with infectious diseases and this new Centre will provide the premises for researchers and specialist clinicians to collaborate as a combined unit. A ‘ground-breaking’ event was held on Wednesday, 22 August 2012, to excavate the first layer of soil where the new research and treatment Centre will be situated.

The Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases will centralise the activities of the Hospital’s existing Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Clinical Research units. Research findings from these units have already influenced the management of childhood diseases on the African continent and globally. However, the activities of these units are scattered throughout the Hospital campus. The new Centre will create dedicated space for combining clinical, training and research activities thus improving operational efficiency. 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.

Clinicians attached to the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit, provide a clinical service for children with complex or advanced infectious diseases problems including severe HIV infection, drug-resistant TB, hospital-acquired infections and underlying primary immune-deficiencies. An important related function is the training of infectious diseases sub-specialists. The existing Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit is one of a few that are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, and one of three in South Africa to successfully train paediatric infectious diseases sub-specialists. The unit also assists in the development of provincial, national and global treatment guidelines for children with infectious diseases.

The Clinical Research Unit is a training and research hub for child health specialists undertaking cutting edge clinical research that addresses the most important childhood diseases in Africa. Research emanating from this unit has led to better care for children through advances in prevention, diagnosis and management of common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis or asthma. The new Centre will provide a more spacious environment, better facilities and expanded opportunities for training for the Clinical Research Unit. The unit will also serve as a central hub supporting paediatric clinical research sites in several other community and hospital settings, thus building much needed capacity.

“The construction of this new Centre has been made possible by the support of donors who donate generously to impact paediatric healthcare needs at the Hospital, in the Western Cape and on the African continent. Donors who have funded this project have ranged from churches, corporates and adventurous bikers, to a phenomenal legacy gift from the Estate of a prominent Cape Town businessman, whose memory will be honoured with a plaque in the new Centre,” says Louise Driver, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Trust, fundraiser for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Paediatric Healthcare in the Western Cape.

“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,” says Professor Brian Eley, Head of the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

“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,” says Professor Heather Zar, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and the University of Cape Town.

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is one of the top paediatric hospitals in the world, providing world-class treatment to seriously ill children and high level training both locally and internationally, while conducting innovative research into childhood illnesses that has global influence. The Children’s Hospital Trust is committed to maintaining the Hospital’s reputable status as a state-of-the-art child health institution through funding the Hospital’s upgrades, equipment needs, research, training and capital works projects that impact on the healthcare of children in Africa and globally.