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Surgeons for Little Lives receive funding for construction at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital

*This content is sponsored by RMB, a diversified financial services brand encompassing investment banking, fund management, private wealth management and advisory services.

By Gareth Armstrong*

In October 2010, a small team at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) established three trusts to participate in the MTN BEE transaction. RMB provided funding to the Impilo Yesizwe (Health of the Nation), Imfundo Yesizwe (Education of the Nation) and Intuthuko Yesizwe (Development of the Nation) trusts on an arm’s length basis. “The three trusts entered into partnership agreements with RMB as the founding partner. We’ve done this kind of pro bono work for other philanthropic initiatives, so when the MTN BEE transaction opened to the public, we seized the opportunity to participate in a transaction where the ultimate beneficiaries would be public benefit organizations delivering essential services in our communities,” says RMB corporate finance executive, Gareth Armstrong.

Gareth Armstrong

In November 2016, the transaction was unwound and the net profit from the partnerships, amounting to approximately R5.2 million per trust, was paid out, to be distributed to public benefit organizations operating in health, education and social development. “These donations fall outside of RMB’s corporate social investment spend and programmes. Instead on a volunteer basis, we applied our intellectual capital, balance sheet and structuring expertise, as we do in our daily business, to participate in a transaction specifically for the benefit of others,” says Armstrong.

The first of these distributions took place in the resource and fund scarce healthcare sector. The Impilo Yesizwe trust has provided funding to Surgeons for Little Lives (SFLL). Launched in May 2015, SFLL is a registered non-profit organisation, committed to saving the lives of sick children and babies in state-run hospitals such as Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH). The organisation is run by a small group of pediatric surgeons and ordinary people committed to uplifting the lives of children requiring life changing surgery.

South African doctors are among the best in the world. However, through circumstances beyond their control, they can’t always provide the standard of care that they would like to. “When businesses like RMB create these kinds of endowments which are able to provide funding to organizations such as ourselves, it results in facilities that afford specialist skills to those who need it most,” says SFLL’s chairman, Professor Jerome Loveland, head of Paediatric Surgery at CHBAH and the University of the Witwatersrand. “Gareth spent some time with us and made a real effort to understand the enormity of our challenge – to provide world class surgery in a dignified environment, for children at Baragwanath Hospital.”

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

An immediate priority for SFLL is to raise money to build a facility that serves as a lactation unit and breast milk bank at CHBAH. The envisaged facility will consist of breast milk expressing rooms, a milk processing plant, a breast milk bank, transport network and an antenatal and postnatal education facility.

It is a basic human right of mothers to express their breast milk in a clean, professional environment with dignity, supported by trained lactation experts. This is currently not the case at CHBAH, where mothers have no option but to express their breast milk in corridors and other public spaces without the help or support of trained medical professionals. According to Armstrong, “My eyes were opened to what is an obvious infringement of human rights on so many levels, which made this project even more important and meaningful.”

Equally important is to provide newborns with maternally expressed or donated breast milk, as opposed to formula. The direct outcome of breast milk feeding will be the reduction of the devastating burden of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in babies, where the intestinal tissue becomes damaged and begins to die. Premature infants are particularly prone to developing NEC, as they are more predisposed to infections of their gastrointestinal tracts, the sequelae of which commonly require protracted admissions to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and are often fatal. Whilst numerous contributing factors cannot be controlled, maternal or donated breast milk feeding is known to significantly reduce the incidence of NEC. In many units where this feeding regime has been implemented, the disease has almost been eradicated, reducing hospital neonatal mortality.

medical aidSFLL has partnered with the Mediclinic Group, Graceland Architects and TMS Quantity Surveyors which have committed to all logistical support and project management for the breast milk bank, which will also contribute to academic research from both a maternal and neonatal perspective. SFLL is in the process of finalising the project plan and budget for the breast milk bank, which is expected to cost between R15 million and R20 million.

RMB’s Impilo Yesizwe trust pledged its R5.2 million to this project, which together with other pledges made on the evening of the project launch, totals R6 million to date. “It is amazing that RMB is able to embrace our passion for improving little lives, applying their minds and resources to help us realise important goals. We want to thank the full team involved for their innovative approach to creating a funding opportunity that never existed before, by doing good business for a great cause,” says Professor Loveland.

  • Gareth Armstrong is a corporate finance executive at Rand Merchant Bank. 
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