All of Harare’s major government hospitals suffer from a dearth of modern medical equipment and professional specialists, proving a major challenge to the country’s health delivery system.
One young doctor plans to change this. Dr Faith Muchemwa has been working hard to source a few surgical gadgets but has realised she needs to develop a more sustainable way of supporting and improving access to plastic surgery. Establishing a centre would be one small way of making a difference.
“I can understand the agony that the parents and victims go through of not knowing what will happen to their child because of lack of either equipment or specialists,” says Dr Faith Muchemwa. “It’s heart-breaking to see your child in pain and not be able to do anything about it because the facilities are under-equipped.”
When a young Faith came out of Goromonzi High School with excellent grades in the sciences and enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences (UZ-CHS), little did she envision traversing the seven seas and being one of the pioneer females in the country in the profession of plastic surgery.
The mum-of-two is looking at setting up a practice in plastic reconstruction as she moves towards completion of her hands-on training in plastic surgery in the next two years.
Casually attired in a white Chinese collar leather jacket and matching off-grey sweatshirt, the well-travelled medical doctor, recently back from a six-month professional development stint in Canada, says her intentions are large in a field where she hopes to become a role model.
The Chinhoyi-born doctor studied and completed her medical training at the UZ from 1994 to 1998 and did her housemanship at Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals under Mr Muzezewa. (Surgeons shed the title ‘Dr’ and revert to ‘Mr,’ as do some gynaecologists.)
“He is the one who inspired me to go into plastic surgery,” confesses the petite trainee plastic surgeon – likely to be one of three practicing plastic surgeons in the country.
While most people associate plastic surgery with facial reconstruction à la Michael Jackson, few pause to think of the surgery’s life-saving side like breast cancers, cleft palates or flesh reconstruction.
“It’s usually children who are the victims of burns and this, in most cases, calls for plastic surgery,” says Faith. “My passion for children, the disadvantaged and vulnerable has pushed me into plastic reconstruction and I intend to set up a trust for helping those in dire need,” she explains, saying plastic surgery is quite expensive and usually people here “have it performed in South Africa or elsewhere.”
“I would like to assist in getting most of the modern equipment and gadgets and set up a practice – this will help bring down the cost significantly,” enthuses the trainee surgeon who also spent seven years post-UZ – from 2003 to 2010 – specialising in plastic surgery in Japan.
In fact, she recently spent six months in Canada and only touched down in Harare on the eve of a College of Surgeons, East, Central and Southern Africa conference where she presented a paper on factors hindering entry of females into surgery. Now she only wants to leave the country for professional development – time permitting.
Faith has nothing against aesthetic surgery but she’s passionate about plastic reconstruction for the disadvantaged. She’s also keen to be a role model for young women taking up previously ‘male-only’ professions.
Happily married and settled in the capital with her small family, two sons of 16 and seven, she says it’s the passion that drives her through “a 30-hour day” – a day that normally begins at the crack of dawn and ends well after dark.