The Addington Children’s Hospital Restoration Project

The Addington Children’s Hospital in Durban, South Africa, is being rebuilt two decades after it closed owing to apartheid. It opened in 1931 as a facility for all races, but racial tensions in the 1980s forced its closure. With Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal extremely hard hit by HiV, AIDS and tuberculosis, local […]

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The Addington Children’s Hospital in Durban, South Africa, is being rebuilt two decades after it closed owing to apartheid.

It opened in 1931 as a facility for all races, but racial tensions in the 1980s forced its closure.

With Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal extremely hard hit by HiV, AIDS and tuberculosis, local leaders embarked on a restoration and rebuild process.

While child mortality rates almost everywhere else in the world have been falling, this part of South Africa has seen the rate rise. At some maternity clinics in the region, 50 percent of pregnant women are testing positive for HIV.

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“HIV contributes to almost 50 to 60 percent of deaths in children under the age of 5 [in South Africa],”

says Mohern Archary, a pediatrician at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban.

This is why Arthi Ramkissoon, a public health director at the University of the Witwatersrand, pushed to restore the boarded-up Children’s Hospital in Durban, and to restore her dream of again having a multiracial children’s hospital in Durban by-the-sea.

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“Children are a neglected part of the health system,” she says, “and a hospital dedicated exclusively to the needs of kids could help reduce the province’s rising infant mortality.”

The Durban Children’s Hospital was the first facility in all of Africa dedicated exclusively to kids. It was built in 1928 by then-Durban Mayor Mary Siedle, who wanted to take a child of color for medical treatment but could not find a place.

The hospital had a mandate to serve kids of all races, but it sat on a prime, beachfront lot in a white neighbourhood. Amid rising tension about the hospital attracting nonwhites into a white neighbourhood, the apartheid regime shut it down in the 1980s. The Durban Children’s Hospital was designed in the 1920s with stately porches and huge windows facing the Indian Ocean.

Following the hospital closure, the hospital’s seven buildings fell into deep disrepair. Windows were shattered, roofs collapsed, pigeons nested in gutters, and squatters moved in for shelter.

Ramkissoon, who works with KwaZulu-Natal Children’s Hospital Trust, began a campaign to raise money to restore six of the seven buildings on the 3.5 acre site. The first building has been rebuilt, and opened in July 2013.

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The focus of the resurrected children’s hospital, she says, will be broader than just HIV. There will be general paediatric medicine, psychological services and inpatient wards. The hospital will also house a centre for HIV-positive teenagers.

Ramkissoon’s forward view is to take full advantage of the facility’s prime location next to the Indian Ocean.

“My vision is for children to have physical therapy on the beach,” she says. “I’d like the wheelchairs and beds to be wheeled out there. I’m going to try to have a ramp or something out to the sand.”