UCT’s Neliswa Gogela gets R2m award
Dr Neliswa Gogela, a physician from the University of Cape Town, has become the first recipient of a R2-million grant that will enable her to study liver transplants at the world-renowned Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.
Announcing the inaugural Discovery Foundation MGH Fellowship Award aimed at bolstering academic medicine yesterday, Discovery Health CEO Dr Jonathan Broomberg, said there was an urgent need to “boost our diminishing pool of medical academics and develop global experts in the academic healthcare field.”
The average age of medical specialists in South Africa is 55, said Broomberg, which indicated an urgent need to develop a new generation.
The 36-year-old Gogela specialises in hepatology (liver disease) and is working toward her PhD. There is a severe shortage of hepatologists trained in liver transplantation in South Africa, as the burden of liver disease and the complexity of available treatments have increased significantly.
Gogela will spend a year as MGH where she will participate in around 50 liver transplants rather than the five she gets exposure to in Cape Town.
“We have a shortage of donors in South Africa, so we have the patients but not the livers for transplant,” said Gogela, who said the grant was sent by her guardian angel.
Gogela grew up in poverty in the Eastern Cape, under the strict eye of her grandmother while at eMazazini High School in Peddie.
“She would watch the first students come out of school and count how long to took me to get home then, if I took long, I would have to explain why. So all I could do was study, study study,” said Gogela.
“I wanted to become a doctor. But the standard of education was poor. By March of our matric year, our maths, science and biology teachers had washed their hands of us. So we had to teach ourselves.”
Self-taught Gogela did well enough to be admitted to Medunsa to study medicine, and it was as an intern at Frere Hospital in East London that she developed her “fascination” with the liver.
“A young patient was admitted almost comatose with Hepatitis C, which affects the liver. I did not know what to do and someone suggested I phone UCT for help. They suggested a lot of things to do, and I spent the weekend looking after the patient. “
After a week, the young woman had made a remarkable recovery and Gogela was hooked on the liver.
Dr Bongani Mayosi, head of medicine at UCT, then called and offered her a place at the university, where she is currently working.
Welcoming Gogela’s award, Deputy Health Minister Dr Gwen Ramakgopa said she was “an inspiration” who was able to defy the racial, gender and rural barriers.
Gogela, her pharmacist husband Thibedi Mafokwane and sons Matome (8) and Itumeleng (16 months) will spend a year at MGH before returning to Cape Town, where Gogela aims to “give back what I have learnt”.
“One of the greatest healthcare challenges our country faces is a severe shortage of suitably skilled specialists. A critical link to address this need is academic specialists,” explained Dr Vincent Maphai, Chairperson of the Discovery Foundation.
“Without a sufficient number of thought leaders and experts to teach our future healthcare specialists and leaders, South Africa cannot continue its proud legacy of excellence in healthcare.”– Health-e News Service.