Surgeons for Little Lives, a nonprofit organisation that improves the lives of children and babies in state-run hospitals, has received a funding boost from the Impilo Yesizwe (Health of the Nation) trust.

The trust was established by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) in October 2010 to participate in the MTN black economic empowerment (BEE) transaction. Along with the Imfundo Yesizwe (Education of the Nation) and Intuthuko Yesizwe (Development of the Nation) trusts, it entered into partnership agreements with RMB, which, as founding partner, funded the trusts on an arm’s-length basis to participate in the transaction.

In November 2016, the MTN BEE transaction unwound. Each trust received about R5.2-million in net profit from the partnerships, to be distributed to public benefit organisations operating in health, education and social development.

These donations fall outside RMB’s corporate social investment spend as a percentage of after-tax profits. Instead, RMB has applied its intellectual capital, balance sheet and structuring expertise to participate in a transaction for the ultimate benefit of others.

The first of these distributions took place in the resource- and fund-scarce healthcare sector. South African doctors are among the best in the world, but through circumstances beyond their control cannot always provide the best standard of care. Limited resources mean only basic care is available to their patients and their families in large, overburdened state hospitals. It takes longer for children to recover after surgery and complications are more likely to set in.   

Surgeons for Little Lives, run by a small group of paediatric surgeons and ordinary people committed to helping children who require life-changing surgery, was chosen as the beneficiary of the health trust. The organisation aligns with the RMB principles of good people doing great things by making rare and specialist skills available to those who need it most.

It was established to raise the level of care given to patients in the paediatric surgery wards of hospitals in the greater Gauteng area to world-class standards. Its chairman is Prof Jerome Loveland, head of paediatric surgery at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and the University of the Witwatersrand.  

An immediate priority for Surgeons for Little Lives is to raise money to build a lactation and breast-milk facility at Chris Hani Baragwanath. It will include breast-milk expressing rooms, a milk processing plant, a breast-milk bank, a transport network and an ante- and postnatal education facility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gareth Armstrong is a corporate finance executive at Rand Merchant Bank
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gareth Armstrong is a corporate finance executive at Rand Merchant Bank

It is a basic human right of mothers to express their breast milk in a clean, professional environment with dignity, supported by experts. This is currently not the case at Chris Hani Baragwanath, where mothers have to express their milk in corridors and other public spaces without the support of medical professionals.

Equally important is to provide maternally expressed or donated breast milk (as opposed to formula) to newborns admitted to the hospital. This will help ease the devastating burden of necrotising enterocolitis in babies, where their intestinal tissues become damaged and begin to die. Prematurely born infants are particularly prone to developing this condition as they are more predisposed to gastrointestinal tract infections, the effects of which can be fatal and often require admission to the neonatal intensive-care unit.

While there are other contributing factors, the provision of maternal or donated breast milk is known to significantly reduce the incidence of necrotising enterocolitis. In many units where this feeding regime has been implemented, it has contributed to nearly eradicating the disease. The impact on hospital neonatal mortality is profound. 

Surgeons for Little Lives has partnered with the Mediclinic group, Graceland Architects and TMS Quantity Surveyors, which will provide logistical support and project management for the breast-milk bank. The bank will also contribute to academic research from a maternal and neonatal perspective.

The organisation is finalising the project plan and budget for the facility, which is expected to cost between R15-million and R20-million. RMB has pledged R5.2-million, which, together with pledges made at the project’s launch event, brings total funding to date to R6-million.

This article was paid for by RMB.