Becoming a parent is a joy but it can also be overwhelming and just a little daunting. There is no degree or diploma, you are simply propelled into it. It’s a steep learning curve. You instantly have a new life depending on you and, combined with sleep deprivation, the challenges of adjusting to being a parent and wanting to do the best for your child, you need all the help you can get.

Sadly, annually about 12 million children in developing countries die before they reach their fifth birthday.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), seven in 10 of these deaths are due to five main diseases, including:

  • Acute respiratory infections (including asthma but mostly pneumonia)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Measles
  • Malnutrition
  • Malaria (found only in Kwazulu/Natal, Mpumalanga and the Northern Province).

In South Africa the Department of Health has added additional health issues to the WHO List – such as, upper respiratory infections (including ear infections), TB, HIV/AIDS, child abuse and meningitis as priority condition.

Two years ago Bonitas Medical Fund launched South Africa’s first dedicated toddler’s health advice line.  Called Babyline, this 24/7 help line is invaluable for new parents. The service, available to its members, means sound health advice from professionals, is just a phone call away.

‘Parents are often confronted with a host of children’s health issues, particularly in the first three years. In an effort to help educate and support Bonitas moms and dads and to ensure their medical aid benefits last longer, we introduced the Babyline service,’ explains Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund.

‘The system of telephone advice guarantees members instant and real-time access to pre-eminent, professional advice and standardised paediatric protocols,” explains Van Emmenis. ‘Our aim is to give parents the best possible resources to help them maintain and improve the health of their child. It’s about giving anxious parents peace of mind when it comes to an urgent health concern and, hopefully, will also alleviate unnecessary trips to doctors or hospitals.’

The service was developed in conjunction with the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Pretoria and is based on a concept used by the top providers of child health advice in the USA. ‘We do have to stress that although Babyline is designed to assist parents with health concerns, nurses do not provide diagnosis or prescriptions. They are on call to offer advice on how best to deal with the current health problem or refer you to the nearest healthcare facility,’ he cautions.

When advice is needed most

BabyLine currently receives around 300 calls per month. This has increased 10 fold over the last year with most calls coming through between around 4pm to 10pm. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s when parents get home from work and discover the child is a bit ill and they require advice.

What are the most common questions asked by parents?

Most questions are around common childhood problems such as temperature, feeding issues, cough and respiratory complaints and tummy problems

Have you had any calls when the baby’s life is in danger?

The emergencies tend to self -select out of the system as parents head straight for their healthcare provider or ER. We have the occasional case of fever in an infant under the age of 3 months that requires referral to the ER.

How would you like to see BabyLine utilised by parents?

‘BabyLine offers an extra layer of healthcare between the parents at home and physically seeking care,’ says Van Emmenis.’ Most parents have access to the internet but what they actually require is the support of someone who is experienced, a calm rationale healthcare professional they can speak to whenever they need to – 24/7.’

Having the appropriate level of support and guidance when necessary can help parents through this difficult time of adjustment. The availability of 24/7 care, telephonically, also helps parents save on costs which significantly reduces unnecessary healthcare visits and time off work. 

Can you give us an overview of the most common childhood problems in the following age groups?

  • 0 – 6 months: feeding issues, growth, tummy problems
  • 6 months – 1 year: respiratory tract illnesses, tummy issues, fever
  • 1-2 years: developmental problems, teething, respiratory illness
  • 2-3 years: sleep, growth and development. Feeding. Infections

‘The aim of the service is to act as a traffic light that guides parents when to seek care and the most appropriate level of care for a particular problem. In a country such as ours, healthcare resources are limited and should be used judiciously and responsibly.’


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