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Young doctor a beacon of hope

Dr Nhlakanipho Gumede is ensuring that the Pholela Community Healthcare

Free-spirited yet practical and proactive sums up the young and successful Dr Nhlakanipho

Gumede, who firmly believes in lead- ing by example, values, professionalism, respect and innovation.

Born in Mbazwana in the north- eastern part of Kwazulu-Natal and raised by his grandmother, Gumede and his siblings came from a poor family but “never went hungry”.

“We had a school, clinic and shops close to home, but we didn’t have electricity and had very little water until later in life when we had a tap in our yard. I grew up in a rural area where civilisation and life was evolving,” he recalled.

Gumede completed his Medical degree in Cuba in 2010 at the Instituto Superior de Ciencias Médicas de Villa Clara, but his training required that he finish his final year in South Africa and he enrolled at Wits University. He then wrote his Cuban exams and obtained a Doctor en Medicina (Doc- tor in Medicine) degree, which is equivalent to a MBBCh/MBchB, at the age of 26.

The passionate healthcare professional “always had a thing for health”, even though he didn’t believe that he would become a doctor one day.

“I remember asking why only white or Indian men worked in pharmacies and why black youth were not taking up these positions. When I was growing up people were dying from diseases. I saw

a lot of malaria in my area and I always wanted to work at a health institution, but I never wanted to become a doctor, even though everyone at home always thought that I would become one,” he said.

Grabbing opportunities

One day Gumede saw an advert looking for students who wanted to study medicine in Cuba. He didn’t miss the opportunity.“This was going to be the financial alleviation my family needed, especially my mother who was financing my tertiary education,” he added.

Gumede was just 31 when he took on the challenging and excit- ing role of acting CEO at Pholela Community Healthcare Centre in Bulwer, KwaZulu-Natal. A year later in 2016, he was appointed as CEO.

He has made fighting disease and poverty his mission, giving hope to others and solving any problems that arise at the health- care centre.

“I enjoy taking good government policies and putting them into practice at grassroots level and the relationships that I have with patients and employees. What is most fulfilling though, is to see my team being actively involved in the development of strategies that guarantee that our people and society receive the healthcare services that they deserve.”

“To be the one that pushes this agenda makes me happy about my job. After all, prevention is better than cure,” said Gumede.

Pholela’s revival

The Pholela Community Healthcare Centre serves mostly rural commu- nities and is usually a patient’s first port of call when it comes to their health.

The centre’s history dates back to 1940, when it was the first healthcare centre established by the Union Health Department. Follow- ing a report by the National Health Services Commission in 1944, the government established health- care centres across South Africa.

Back then, Pholela was a useful pilot project. Medical officers and staff appointed at other centres were sent to Pholela to gain experience and study methods that evolved there. It remained a teaching and investigation base, resulting in it becoming the rural section of the Institute of Family and Community Health, which had its headquarters in Durban.

Pholela is internationally ac- knowledged as the site where the community-orientated primary healthcare concept (COPHC) was successfully initiated and put into practice. It has assisted many postgraduates studying COPHC and it continues to render top-class health services to its communities. It now has seven satellite clinics and many outreach programmes. Dr Gumede believes that Pholela will continue to be a stronghold for COPHC.

“We would like to increase our services to include short-stay wards, a minor operation theatre and a complete multi-disciplinary team. We also want to have a dem- onstration garden inside the facility, where we can teach people how to plant and cook vegetables. In the future, we want to become a teaching and research centre for medical students,” he said.

Teenage pregnancy and HIV

Pholela’s greatest challenges include the high incidence of HIV and teenage pregnancy.“It is medically proven that teenage pregnancy is a risk factor of HIV. We are worried about the high number of teenagers who fall pregnant. The fact that they are pregnant means that they did not use protection; therefore they are at risk of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV,” said Gumede.

Pholela is working on a strategy that includes teenage pregnancy campaigns in schools and educat- ing the community to stop this epidemic.

“We are also planning a huge event in June 2018 that will involve Operation Sukuma Sakhe, traditional leaders, municipalities and all government departments. It will help us to educate more teenag- ers and ensure that the message is spread not only to them but to the community at large,” he added.

The man inside the doctor

Gumede married Lynn Carol Nom- fundo in 2012.“I have known this wonderful lady for over 14 years. She has been my guide and the sole reason for my success. She has supported me all these years. I owe my development to her because I had to work very hard to provide for our family,” he added. “When home, I get a warm welcome from my wife and the smile on her face just makes me feel like there is a reason I wake up every day.”

Message for the youth

Gumede’s message to youngsters this Youth Day is clear.“It’s all in our hands. The 1976 generation laid the foundation and the 1994 elections give us freedom to start taking control of our country.

The government cannot give you everything on a platter. Some things you must work hard for. Don't wait for government to give you anything. Wake up and fend for yourself. There is a great world out there waiting for you,” he said.

Gumede has his sights firmly set on obtaining a Business Adminis- tration degree, majoring in health. From there, he wants to obtain his Master's in Public Health and a PhD.

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