When researching this topic, it became clear that there was no shortage of incredible women doing incredible things in this country. Specifically amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical industry has been a key focus around the world, and we’re experiencing a renewed appreciation for those who do their best to take care of our health. Fedhealth’s recently launched ‘Hospital At Home’ service is one innovative way that the medical industry is adapting to serve our changing needs.
To mark International Women’s Day and celebrate women in the industry specifically, we asked some South African women to tell us who or what has inspired them to pursue their careers.
Sister Basha is a Professional Nurse and Registered Counsellor, who’s passion is the welfare and medical care of children. She has worked in neonatal and paediatric wards, theatre, recovery, ICU and rehabilitation. However, it was in 2007 when she visited impoverished communities in South Africa that she realized there was an urgent need to help from a welfare perspective too.
She began to provide food, nappies, formula, clothing and blankets during the winter months to mothers, however the need for medical intervention was extremely evident as clinics and hospitals were far away from these communities (farms, rural villages and informal settlements). “I then recruited a multi-disciplinary team to help me facilitate such cases. In 2020 we successfully completed 35 paediatric surgeries, amidst the pandemic,” says Sister Basha.
Sister Basha originally used her nursing hospital salary to fund these lifechanging projects. “I had numerous failed attempts to get assistance from the Department of Health and Department of Social Welfare. I therefore opened a medical practice in 2020 to increase our income capacity so that we could do more for children living with special needs and rare diseases,” she says.
This phenomenal woman looks inwards to find the inspiration and motivation behind the changes she has brought about in the world. “I don’t have a mentor or a role model. I aim to become an example and pave a path of compassion,” ends Sister Basha.
Dr Mfundisi was one of the first black women to qualify as a neurosurgeon in South Africa, carving out her exceptional career against many odds. She now practices in Johannesburg, providing care for brain, skull and spine conditions, including emergencies in adults and children. Dr Mfundisi speaks five South African languages, loves teaching and mentoring and is available for speaking engagements too.
When asked who or what has inspired her to achieve what she has, she lists a variety of strong and inspirational women. “My grandmother, MaMYirha, was a rural woman and housewife who was widowed at an early age and had to fend for herself to raise her young children. She showed great interest in my scholastic abilities and fostered in myself discipline and dedication,” says Dr Mfundisi.
She also cites her aunt and mother, a nurse and librarian respectively, for shaping her views of what women could achieve: “They both defied any laws that in their view were set against women and always sought to challenge that status quo that expects women to be less than,” she says. “Professor Elelwani Ramugondo has been another inspiration to me, an occupational therapist who works against systemic discrimination in medical research,” ends Dr Mfundisi.
For further inspiration we could look to Prudence Mabele, who became one of the first black South African women to declare her HIV-positive status, which led to the start of a lifetime worth of tireless campaigning. Or Dr Mary Malahlela, the first African woman to qualify as a medical practitioner in South Africa. Or Professor Lynette Denny, who has dedicated her life to cervical cancer prevention and treatment and has become globally known for her pioneering research in this regard.
Everywhere you turn there are brave, bold, dedicated South African women striving to improve the state of our health in this country. It’s worth celebrating and acknowledging these beacons of hope, especially in times like these.
By Belinda Mountain