Losing two of his own babies in labour wards inspired Professor Mfundo Mabenge in his mission to advance women’s healthcare in the Eastern Cape.
Today, Mabenge (54) is the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Dora Nginza hospital in Gqeberha, the city in which he was born and raised.
As the last of ten children, he comes from a family of healthcare professionals.
“I decided to study medicine because of the influence of my older siblings who were nurses and paramedics at the time,” he tells Health For Mzansi.
His journey into the medical field of gynaecology was, however, sparked by his own trauma.
“Having lost two babies during our pregnancy with my wife, I developed an interest in gynaecology and felt this should never happen to anyone. Later, my mother had cancer and I was attracted to the field of gynaecological oncology. As a result, I trained as a super specialist in gynaecology.”
Saving a woman’s life should be a public health issue in South Africa, believes Mabenge. “There is a need to support women medically, emotionally and spiritually.”
His qualifications include a B.Sc. from the University of the Western Cape, a MBChB from Medunsa and a Master of Medicine from the University of Pretoria, specialising in gynaecological oncology. He is also the recipient of the 2020 Discovery Foundation Award.
Access to primary healthcare
Specialising in the city of Gqeberha is not easy, he says. “Poverty is rife in the Eastern Cape and affects every sector, including health. This poses a challenge, especially in screening women for disease like cervical cancer because access to health care facilities is extremely limited.”
Reaching these facilities is often difficult for women. “Things like money and transport to go to clinics and hospitals are some of the major stumbling blocks to a completely healthy society. This places us [as] healthcare workers in a devastating situation.”
The scarcity of health professionals in the province has also placed a significant strain on public healthcare workers in the Eastern Cape.
Mabenge adds, “Staff shortages of all healthcare workers is another challenge for us. There is a few of us doctors and nurses left to do the all the work and it’s frustrating. Also, the level of support and understanding from the community regarding the challenge that we face is lacking.”
While backlogs continues to balloon, nothing beats the smiling face of a patient once you have told them that they are going to make it. “Seeing patients going home feeling better after they have been treated is the most is fulfilling feeling.”
“Another fulfilling aspect for me is the training of midwives, advanced midwives, students, specialists, and super specialists that I conduct from Gqeberha. It’s really fulfilling to pass on the skill and knowledge to others.”
Putting women’s health on top of the agenda
After countless encounters and observations of the Gqeberha community regarding women’s health, Mabenge says there is a lot missing in terms of mass action (towards achieving positive women’s health) from civil organisations and players in other sectors.
“I strongly feel like in our malls we need to have clinics for screening cancer and pregnancy confirmation centres where contraception services would also be available.”
Women are important members of the community with a huge role to play, Mabenge says. The death of one woman is too much and has an impact in the community and in raising of children.
Looking to the future
Mabenge recently received an academic fellowship award from Discovery to complete a Doctor of Philosophy in Obstetrics at the University of Witwatersrand.
“I have trained more than 20 Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and over a 100 Diplomats and two superspecialists. My goal is to double that number or even triple it so that the positive impact we want to make to the women of Gqeberha can be achieved.”
He hopes to raise more awareness about women’s reproductive health, especially amongst young men. “My goal is to work hard in empowering our women and our community so that we have no women and children dying unnecessarily,” he says.
“I wish to urge our ladies to take their heath seriously and well look after themselves so that we can have a healthy and a productive community, Wathint’abafazi Wathin’imbokoda! (You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”