THE deaths of hundreds of newborn babies could be prevented if Port Elizabeth’s Dora Nginza state hospital was supplied with basic equipment worth just R5-million.
But for four years the impassioned pleas by dedicated staff have fallen on deaf ears. And, in sheer desperation, head of paediatrics Dr Lungile Pepeta has decided to go cap in hand to the private sector in an attempt to give the babies a fighting chance of surviving.
In terms of public sector government spending, R5-million is a mere drop in the ocean compared to what is spent provincially and nationally on lavish government events, luxury cars and President Jacob Zuma’s controversial Nkandla homestead.
“There is no reason why babies in the public sector should suffer,” Pepeta said. “The equipment we need is really critical and our requests seem to fall on deaf ears.”
The desperate situation is set against a backdrop of shocking baby death statistics that saw the Port Elizabeth region singled out for its high baby death rate in the District Health Barometer filed last year, with 27 out of every 1000 babies born in hospital dying in the city before they are a week old.
In one month alone this spiked to more than 100 newborn deaths at Dora Nginza Hospital.
An average of 1000 babies are born at Dora Nginza every month, so comparatively that means 27 newborns die at the hospital. The 27 out of 1000 babies is almost three times the highest national average ever recorded for the country, which peaked at 10 deaths per 1000 births in 2004-05.
It is almost double that of the Buffalo City region (14) and five times that of Cape Town (5.5). The neonatal death rate is also significantly higher than that of the OR Tambo District in Transkei (20).
The equipment needed at Dora Nginza ranges from vital lifesaving machines to basics that can help staff cut down radically on the number of lawsuits that result from inadequate care of babies.
Included in the list is an estimate of what each item costs.
ýA battery exchange for their ultrasound machine: R3169
ýA micromax power supply replacement for the same machine: R4126.80
Both of these are needed to make an essential machine worth R7-million work.
ýA portable echocardiogram machine: R500000. The one they had had to be moved to Provincial Hospital after it broke. Pepeta is now using his own machine.
For the paediatric ICU:
ýTwo ventilators: R250000 each
ýSix ICU monitors: R 50000 each;
ýTwo continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines used to wean babies off ventilation: R190000 each;
ýSeven Ivac pumps to feed and medicate babies intravenously at R9000 each and 10 syringe pumps at R8900 each for bigger babies;
ýFive oxygen blenders at R15000 each used to regulate the percentage of oxygen babies receive.
Pepeta said oxygen blenders were mainly used to prevent blindness at birth caused by babies receiving too much oxygen.
“If we have R75000 worth of equipment we can literally save the Department of Health millions of rands in lawsuits,” he said.
Other items highlighted as being urgently needed include:
ýTwo reclinable cot beds for infants: R80000 each;
ýTwo reclinable cot beds for children: R150000,
ýThree Servo cribs, or highly equipped “open incubators”, for very sick babies: R95000;
ýPortable phototherapy lights: R20000 each,
ýLaryngoscopes and straight blades used for baby intubation and resuscitation: R12000.
The neonatal unit needs:
ýTwenty phototherapy units: R20000 each;
ýTwenty syringe pumps: R15000 each;
ýAn EEG monitor that can assist doctors to ascertain whether a baby is brain dead and also help identify children prone to seizures, so they can be treated before brain damage: R250000;
ýA head cooling system that helps slow down brain damage in distressed babies: R250000;
ýA cardiac monitor: R50000;
ýSix infant scales: R2000 each;
ýTwo ventilators: R250000 each;
ýAn ultrasound machine: R500000
Figures released by the Department of Health last year showed that Dora Nginza Hospital had a significant number of lawsuits against it – totalling R26-million last year alone.
Pepeta first went public with the high baby death rates when the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex heads of department spoke out about dire staff shortages in 2012. To a great extent the Department of Health has begun to address this issue, but a lack of equipment remains a challenge.
Pepeta said some of the equipment needed would significantly cut the number of neonatal deaths shortly after birth and would also help reduce possible brain damage caused by an oxygen shortage during labour.
Other equipment was needed – like scales – to streamline processes. We only have one scale,” he said. “How do we weigh all the babies in our unit?”
Babies’ precise weights are needed to calculate the amount of medicine and food they need.
Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department allowed doctors to raise funds if there was a shortage of equipment and was supporting Pepeta’s drive for donations.
Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex chief executive Dr Kobus Kotze did not respond to questions asked about why Dora Nginza had not been supplied with the necessary equipment to give babies a fighting chance.
Last year, the Eastern Cape Health Department published an invitation to tender for a new 965m² paediatric wellness clinic at Dora Nginza Hospital but this would not impact on the dire equipment situation.
♦If you can help, contact Dr Pepeta or his secretary, Daphne Terblanche, on (041)406-4327 during weekday office hours.