New Era (Windhoek)

15 February 2013

Namibia: Dr Maria Fisch - the Outstanding Humanitarian Medical Doctor (1924)

PRESENTING the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of German to Maria Fisch as one of the leading pioneer medical doctors, ethnologists and most importantly as the embodiment of humanism at Fisch's award ceremony, the then German Ambassador to Namibia, Egon Kochanke, said Fisch has served Namibian-German relations "in an outstanding manner by her active and unselfish work in the field of medicine, ethnology and even in politics".

Similar sentiments were expressed by John Thinguru, the former governor of Kavango Region, who emphasised the pivotal role Fisch played in the social welfare of the Namibian people. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the field of research and social welfare in Namibia.

Fisch was born on the 24th of December 1924 at Menzel in Germany. She is a multidisciplinary scholar with qualifications in various fields of study. "She studied theology, philosophy and medicine at Göttingen and Münster," writes Klaus Dierks in his Biographies of Namibian Personalities.

Dierks added that during Fisch's doctoral studies she wrote a doctoral dissertation examining the effect of war and post-war conditions on tuberculosis.

In 1957, Fisch began to play a role in the social welfare of the Namibian people, after she was sent to Namibia by the Catholic Medical Mission Institute. She started working as head of the Nyangana Mission Hospital in Kavango Region and later on moved to Andra Hospital in 1967.

Re-counting the difficult conditions and the hardship she endured as a medical doctor in Kavango, Fisch in an interview conducted by Michaela Kanzler in 2006, said that none of her three predecessors were able to cope with the work at the small hospital and the conditions in general, adding that two of them left after six months and the other one after a year.

However, unlike her predecessor and more so due to her prior exposure to difficult conditions at her parents' farm she was able to continue serving as a medical doctor for the population in Kavango for a period of 20 years. "It stood me in good stead that I had to pull my weight on my parents' farm during the Second World War, when I was in my late teens. I also had basic knowledge on technical things and agriculture," said Fisch during an interview with Kanzler.

Despite the fact that the infrastructural set-up in the hospitals she worked in was below the standard requirements, this did not deter Fisch from executing the duties entrusted to her. Citing an episode in which she had to conduct an operation under extremely risky and difficult conditions, she said: "The first surgery I performed was a four-month extra-uterine pregnancy. The woman did not have a drop of blood left in her. The sisters advised me to just leave her. If she dies under your hands you will be finished. Then you will have to go, they said. But when I was able to feel her pulse again I simply started operating under the local anaesthetic."

Besides the commendable role that Fisch played in treating Namibian people at Kavango, she also played an equally important role in the provision of education and research in that part of the country. She is noted to have sourced funds to support young people in Kavango to pursue their tertiary education and published various essays on the history and language of HaMbukushu. It is perhaps within this context that Kanzler wrote: "Maria Fisch consciously lives a life of love for humanity and of faith in God. For many years for example, she has procured financing with the support of her old university friend to enable young people in Kavango to study at university."

After retiring as a medical doctor in 1987, she continued to work mainly in the field of research of the history of Kavango and Caprivi. She also served as President of the Namibia Scientific Society from 1992 to 1993.

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