18 June 2017

Tanzania: People in the News - Fallen Expert Who Trained Tanzania Docs On Ebola Sorely Missed

Photo: The Citizen
Dr Simon Ntabaguzi demonstrates to other health workers during training in 2014 how to combat Ebola. Looking on in the head of Emergency Medicine at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Juma Mfinanga.
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Dar es Salaam — The medical community in Tanzania is still mourning the loss of a veteran specialist, Dr Simon Ntabaguzi--an expert in infectious diseases who succumbed to cancer of the oesophagus last week at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), at the age of 59. He is survived by two children.

He battled for a long time with cancer. During his life he together with other healthcare professionals fought tuberculosis and HIV/Aids in society.

For a long time, he worked at MNH, Mwaisela Ward, as a medical specialist and mentor of junior doctors.

"He served at the hospital since June 3, 1986, when he was first employed as a medical officer by then," says MNH's director of Human Resources, Makwaia Makani. His body was transported on Thursday for burial in his home district of Sengerema, Mwanza Region.

Dr Ntabaguzi will be remembered for having mentored a number of healthcare professionals in the country and his ability to impart skills on how to combat infectious diseases. He became more popular in 2014, when Tanzania was guarding itself from an outbreak of Ebola which had occurred in West Africa.

Over 10,000 people died of an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa--Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned all countries across the world to take precautions and Tanzania was no exception.

During that time, doctors feared that if an outbreak of Ebola occurred in the country, they were too ill-prepared to handle the emergency. MNH, in collaboration with the then Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, organised a team of doctors who would impart knowledge. Dr Ntabaguzi was at the forefront--given his experience.

Yet, according to the presdent of the Medical Association of Tanzania(MAT), Dr Obadia Nyongole, the passing of Dr Ntabaguzi means that the health sector has lost a person whose work has shown the light for Tanzanian health workers on how to deal with epidemics.

"Dr Ntabaguzi played a key role in the formulation of guidelines for the Ministry of Health, especially on how to deal with epidemics such as Cholera," Dr Nyongole told The Citizen at MNH, where the doctors' community had gathered to pay last respects to the fallen medic.

"He was a very professional person, a mentor and one among the long-serving medical specialists at Muhimbili National Hospital. Most of us, specialists who trained in internal medicine have been nurtured by him," added Dr Nyongole.

His death came at a time when all medical professionals were scheduled to hold a symposium on Thursday in Dar es Salaam, with the aim of reminding the medical community on the importance of adhering to the code of ethical conduct, but the gathering was postponed.

"We have postponed the professionalism and professional ethics symposium that was to take place at Muhimbili on Thursday, to next week (June 21), due to the death of Dr Simon Ntabaguzi... " said a statement issued to the medical community.

According to Dr Nyongole, MAT is planning a nationwide campaign, with the aim of spreading the message to all healthcare professionals on the changing faces of healthcare delivery and medical ethics standards in the country and how to adapt to the changing world.

"Veterans such as Dr Ntabaguzi have always reminded junior doctors on why they should stick to professional ethos, but also seek to deal with the changes in the advancement of technology, culture, fueled by the and globalization," suggested Dr Nyongole.

During a recent announcement that called all doctors to convene for a symposium on medical ethics in Dar es Salaam, MAT leaders issued their evaluation of the trend of medical practice as they warned healthcare professionals on why ethos matter during this time.

In a statement to the media, the leaders said: "MAT has noted with great concern that over the years, there has been a decline in the standard of ethical values in the field of medicine in Tanzania. This, coupled with the changing medical advancements, the society, economy and culture, has greatly changed the face of medical practice in the country."

MAT, as a professional body, is, among other things, entitled to maintaining the honour and interests of the medical profession and to uphold a high standard of medical ethics; and the code of conduct among its members.

Medicine as a profession demands of physicians' extraordinary moral sensitivity as they respond to patient vulnerability, studies have shown over the years.

This means that the importance of a unique medical morality cannot be understated. Customs, social mores, and politics all too readily become moral norms without principled justification.

For that reason, medicine requires guidance from a central medical ethic that is formalized in a professional oath that can at least offer some resistance to fluctuating social opinion.

The symposium, organized for next week, will bring together medical doctors--veteran medical specialists from all disciplines of medicine--to try and inspire junior medical professionals and remind them the Hippocratic Oath and how the practice of medicine is undergoing an evolution.

Medical science is continually making rapid advances: new medications and treatments are developed and introduced at a rapid pace, but we can better take advantage of these advances by taking evolution into account, doctors say.

Dr Ntabaguzi's legacy in the health sector may continue to thrive if the new generation of doctors stick to the ethos, MAT leaders believe.

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