Doctor about town: Caring for thousands of patients


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When it comes to the health of her community Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa is passionate about every one of her 30 000 patients. Bienne Huisman visits her on her rounds in Kathu

As a child, Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa’s severe asthma attacks saw her regularly taken to hospital in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Her family even referred to her as “umafavuke” – isiNdebele for “the one who dies and wakes up again”. Time and again at Galen House Hospital’s casualty ward, the youngster’s breathing was restored.

“I would be almost dead at times, but, after nebulisation [when medicine is converted into an aerosol, which is inhaled directly into the lungs], I could talk and play normally again,” she recalls.

Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa

At the age of nine, she knew she wanted to be a doctor. During school holidays, she shadowed their family doctor, the late Dr Gary Ferguson, at Galen House. In 2006, she completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree at the University of Limpopo, graduating cum laude. She began her career in Johannesburg in the emergency ward at Helen Joseph Hospital in Auckland Park.

“There, the biggest lesson I learnt was the power of teamwork,” she says. “Whenever a person required resuscitation, a sister would call out ‘resus!’, and all medical staff on the floor would leave what they were doing and attend to the person in need of resuscitation. A group of us called ourselves the A team. We worked well together and did our utmost to improve a person’s chance of living.”

But the hours at the hospital were gruelling: “When I was there, we were doing 12-hour shifts, and I was pregnant with my first child. I was exhausted. I realised it wasn’t sustainable.”

Today, Moyo-Mubayiwa heads a new “A team” in Kathu in the Northern Cape. Her focus now is on improving health in the workplace. Her official title is superintendent of occupational health and wellness at Sishen Mine.

It’s a big job, and one that prompted Moyo-Mubayiwa to return to her books. This time, she completed a two-year postgraduate diploma in occupational medicine and health at the University of Pretoria.

At Sishen’s Occupational Health Centre, she manages about 20 full-time staff members. Collectively, they oversee the health of more than 10 000 mine employees and their families. This brings her total patient count to about 30 000, which includes patients from the nearby communities.

Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa took on the challenge of moving to the mining town of Kathu to take care of the 30 000 residents’ healthcare needs

She recalls: “I arrived in Kathu on a very cold first day of June in 2014 with my family. I had not been to the Northern Cape before and we ended up getting horribly lost in Prieska [more than 200km from Kathu] thanks to our GPS.”

Moyo-Mubayiwa was joined in Kathu by her husband Bruce Mubayiwa, their sons Lwandle (8) and Tanaka (6), and the family’s Jack Russells, Dinky and Bobby.

The move was not without challenges, she says.

“We had to find a new school for the boys and my husband had to find work in Kathu, which took almost two years. I am so glad my husband supported me – he has been the wind beneath my wings. Without him, I would not have been able to accomplish all that I have.”

And those accomplishments are significant.

At Sishen Mine, visitors and employees alike are required to blow into breathalyser devices before entering the premises. Employees who test positive for alcohol and drugs are retested. If they test positive again within 10 minutes, a docket is opened and a disciplinary hearing will follow.

Inside Moyo-Mubayiwa’s office, bright pictures drawn by her sons and family photographs liven the wall above her desk. There is also a large chart mapping her division’s organisational values: “Be on time”, “Treat all the same” and “Teamwork” are some of the blurbs.

Down the corridor from her office are hearing, vision and lung test areas, and a room where X-rays are taken.

Sishen’s employees have regular medical tests at the Occupational Health Centre that Moyo-Mubayiwa and her team manage. Those employees who are considered at a higher risk – workers exposed to high noise levels and airborne pollutants and chemicals – are tested every six months. Low-risk groups – such as office-bound staff – are tested every second year.

Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa on duty at Anglo American’s Sishen Mine’s health centre

“Those found with any illness are referred to the appropriate healthcare practitioners for further medical assistance. We also pay great attention to the community – our employees’ aunts, uncles, spouses, children, parents and grandparents. These people are an important part of our ecosystem. There is no advantage in giving Rolls-Royce treatment to employees while ignoring the community they come from. So when we have campaigns at the mine, we pull them through to the Kathu community. This ensures that our community moves at the same pace as our employees. They get to learn about HIV, TB and wellness issues, and can provide informed encouragement and support to our employees.”

In fostering better general community health and wellness, the broader community’s spirit is raised and its values are enhanced. This, she says, ultimately increases productivity at the mine.

At Sishen, one of the programmes that has been developed so that employees live healthy lifestyles is the Oresome Me weight-loss challenge, which offers boot camp classes, aerobics days and consultations with dieticians for mine employees.

Participants are weighed weekly at Sishen’s auditorium. In November, those who have lost the most weight will receive prizes, including a holiday boat cruise and a holiday at the Palace of the Lost City at Sun City in North West.

“With the Oresome Me weight-loss challenge, we encourage our employees to lose weight in a safe and sustainable way,” says Moyo-Mubayiwa. “We also encourage staff to complete the weekly 5km park run here in Kathu.”

By training employees as well as the community, we are slowly reducing the stigma born of ignorance.
Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa

Managing and reducing the incidence of HIV-related diseases and TB is integral to Moyo-Mubayiwa’s task. To this end, she attended the ninth SA Aids Conference – under the theme Unprecedented Innovations and Technologies: HIV and change – in Durban in June.

“At Anglo American Sishen mine we would like to be ahead of the curve in adopting newer and better HIV management techniques,” she says.

“There are discussions on how to reduce stigma, and how to encourage community acceptance and support for HIV-positive members. There are also new drugs available that make treatment adoption very easy for people living with HIV and their families to manage.”

Moyo-Mubayiwa says they have worked hard to reduce the stigma around HIV: “By training employees as well as the community, we are slowly reducing the stigma born of ignorance.

The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times
Dr Nothando Moyo-Mubayiwa

“Employees and their families are more accepting of their diagnosis and treatment modalities. Our employees no longer have to hide their conditions and can freely discuss their issues with their families. This is important. For example, antiretroviral medication can make you dizzy, and the person taking them might be working at heights, which is obviously a big risk. Making sure that an employee is well enough to work, and is safe while working – that is what occupational health is all about.”

Moyo-Mubayiwa cites writer Paulo Coelho as a source of inspiration: “I loved The Alchemist, which is about a young shepherd boy who goes on a journey and quest for treasure to realise his ‘personal legend’. The theme I loved in The Alchemist is that one should always follow his or her heart’s desires. When you do what your heart desires, you wake up every morning fired up to do more. It also taught me about not giving up. You may fail, but you must get up and try again.”

She quotes: “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

Her job in medicine is, without a doubt, a passion: “Working at Kumba Iron Ore has been a great opportunity for me. I enjoy the work I do and I feel every bit makes a difference,” she says. “I get to influence employees and the community at large to live healthily.”

Looking back on her adrenalin-filled days at Helen Joseph Hospital, Moyo-Mubayiwa is at peace with her decision to move into occupational health at Sishen.

“Here, I get to look after an entire town. As a medical professional and a mother, being able to help build a better life for all the families in my community here, while also having quality time with my own family, is highly rewarding,” she says.

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