Celebrating Africa’s health heroes

11 December 2014

Africa is hardest hit by the worldwide shortage of healthcare workers, with only 3% of the world’s healthcare workers tending to 24% of the global disease burden.

To help bridge the skills divide, the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences offers programmes aimed at African students who want to use the expertise to make a difference in their home countries.

Theresia Shivera-Anton: MMed (Anaesthesiology)

Theresia Shivera-Anton, who is completing a Master of Medicine in Anaesthesiology at UCT, says she has been “patriotic from a young age”.

“When I first came to study medicine my intention was to return home and serve the Namibian people. Now, as a postgraduate student, that has not changed,” she says.

Namibia has only 10 registered anaesthetists, most of whom work in the private sector. The Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services’ strategic framework outlining plans to have 750 medical undergraduates, 100 postgraduates and 22 medical specialists trained by 2017.

Shivera-Anton has a passion for teaching, and sees herself passing on the knowledge and skills she’s acquired at UCT to the next generation of Namibian medical professionals.

Upon her return to Namibia, Shivera-Anton plans to initiate a programme for anaesthetic nurses in every hospital.

George Chagaluka: MPhil (Paediatric Oncology)

George Chagaluka, a specialist in paediatric oncology A holistic approach to childhood cancer is at the top of things George Chagaluka, a specialist in paediatric oncology, plans to implement when he returns to Malawi.

Chagaluka, who completed his MPhil in Paediatric Oncology at UCT, believes the multidisciplinary care he witnessed during his time at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is something Malawian children could benefit from.

“There is a dire need for good networking among professionals such as surgeons, pharmacists, radiotherapists and social workers,” he says.

According to Chagaluka, Malawi forms part of the belt of African states where Burkitt lymphoma – childhood cancer associated with malaria, Epstein-Barr virus and HIV – can be considered endemic.

“Lately, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of cases [of this disease]. The increase has come about for two reasons: more medical graduates have an improved knowledge of childhood cancer; and the high immunisation coverage has reduced the burden of infectious diseases, and therefore, diagnostic efforts are channelled to non-infectious diseases such as cancer. This has led to a growing need for paediatric oncologists,” he says.

Chagaluka is currently the only paediatric oncologist in Malawi, but he hopes to identify other paediatricians who can undergo oncology training, as well as set up a “training programme in Malawi” with others in his field.

Gina Oladokun: MPhil (Paediatric Infectious Disease)

Gina Oladokun, 
 a specialist in Paediatric Infectious Diseases What makes studying at UCT stand out for Gina Oladokun is exposure to the appropriate identification and diagnosis of conditions related to paediatric infectious disease – about which she would only have read in textbooks in Nigeria.

Oladokun, a fellow of the African Paediatric Fellowship Programme, is in the process of completing an MPhil in Paediatric Infectious Disease.

Although paediatric infectious disease is a relatively new sub-speciality in Nigeria, a Nigerian Society for Paediatric Infectious Disease has been established and is tasked with streamlining and standardising practice in the country.

Thabani Thatha: MMed (General Paediatrics)

Thabani 
 Thatha, a fellow of the African Paediatrics Fellowship Programme at UCT Zimbabwe has only 30 general paediatricians for a population of more than 13-million people. Bulawayo has three paediatricians serving about 1-million people – with two of the three nearing retirement age.

This is what prompted Thabani Thatha to register for an MMed in General Paediatrics at UCT, where he’s now a fellow of the African Paediatrics Fellowship Programme, and based at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

This is an edited version of a story first published in UCT’s Monday Monthly. Read the full story here.