News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Saturday February 16th 2019

Winter sneezes and diseases stretch kid hospitals to the limit

Yugendree Naidoo

With Western Cape health authorities reporting stretched budgets, hospitals are expecting to face further strain due to an increase in childhood illnesses caused by cold winter weather.

An increase in respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia have already been reported at hospitals, but the Western Cape health department maintains that budget problems will not lead to bed cuts.

Tygerberg Children’s Hospital spokesperson Laticia Pienaar said they had noted an increase in children suffering from pneumonia.

Approximately 20 to 30 children were seen per day for pneumonia or similar diseases during the winter months.

Pienaar said this was just the “tip of the iceberg” as most children would be identified and treated at local clinics, with only the sickest referred to the hospital.

Hospital services were being challenged due to the increasing population of young children, especially premature babies in the province, she said.

“The services are being stretched to the limit but at present are coping.”

Pienaar said the strategy to improve health services throughout the province was ensuring that more children were receiving appropriate treatment for pneumonia at clinics, district and regional hospitals.

But because of this more very ill children were being referred for tertiary care and it was at this level where there were limited resources to ensure that all children requiring high and intensive care had access to it.

“This is now rapidly becoming one of the biggest challenges for children with very severe pneumonia.”

Red Cross Children’s Hospital senior specialist in general paediatrics Professor Tony Westwood said respiratory infections were the main cause of hospital admissions during winter and accounted for up to 60% of admissions.

Young children, especially in the first year of life, were at risk of contracting Respiratory Syncitial Virus (RSV), which included a bad cough and difficulty in breathing. The condition required hospital admission, since it also easily caused bacteria infections such as pneumonia.

Westwood said support treatment was required that included oxygen and fluids so that the child did not become dehydrated.

More serious cases required high levels of oxygen and ventilation as the condition could result in death, said Westwood.

Western Cape Department of Health spokesperson Faiza Steyn said an increase in all respiratory illnesses requiring admission had already been noted.

Last week newly appointed MEC for health Theuns Botha announced that the province’s budget for health was in serious danger since the department was expected to overspend R120 million by the end of the financial year in March 2010.

Current budgets could not keep pace with needs, Botha was reported as saying.

But Steyn said beds for children were not being cut even though there were financial constraints.

Planning included keeping extra beds open at Somerset Hospital and possibly opening beds elsewhere in June and July, she said. — West Cape News

Tags: pneumonia

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