An opportunity to study and work abroad, is one that is never missed or compromised as “pastures” are considered greener out there, but for an ex-Milton High School pupil, returning home was on top of his list.
Now a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr Tongai Chitsamatanga is back in Bulawayo to practice at the just opened Cure International Hospital, becoming the first pediatric orthopedic surgeon to return to Zimbabwe after specialising abroad.
A pediatric orthopedic surgeon diagnoses, treats and manages children with bone disorders. The common disorders include club foot, bow legs and toe walking. Children with broken bones are also treated.
Sunday News caught up with Dr Chitsamatanga (41) on Thursday last week just as he was preparing to go into surgery and got the chance to trace his journey which began in the Midlands Province.
“I am an orthopedic surgeon. I specialised more in pediatric orthopedics. I was born and bred in Gweru then moved to Bulawayo where I was between 1995 and 1998 as I did my studies at Milton High School. After that I went toHarare to Medical School where I graduated in 2004 at the College of Health Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe.
“I did my internship of two years at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals then proceeded to work at Mutambara Mission Hospital for six years. I returned to Parirenyatwa to train in general orthopedics at the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa graduating in 2017,” he said.
After his general orthopedics training he went to the United Kingdom in 2019 for a trauma and limb reconstruction fellowship.
“Initially I was at the Oxford University National Health Service (NHS) Trust where I did six months of adult limb reconstruction and another six months of adult trauma. I then moved to the University of Derby and Burton NHS where I did a year of pediatric orthopedics training,” he said.
His homecoming has been described as historic as many of his colleagues seldom return to practice back home citing lack of resources and further opportunities among other things but Dr Chitsamatanga has defied the odds.
“My home coming has been historic from the Zimbabwean perspective in that there has been no pediatric orthopedic surgeon and so before I even went to do the fellowship in pediatric orthopedics, I had shown interest in helping children that had bone problems but of course the challenge was that of resources, most of the children were coming from families where their caregivers were not able to afford their treatment.
Going to train in that field and coming back has been something that has been welcomed by most colleagues and patients that I had dealt with before,” he said.
Dr Chitsamatanga said there are various reasons why people decide to go outside the country, why some decide to stay and others to return.
“So, some people go for a few years and end up staying longer for various reasons. It then takes a certain kind of person to say, beyond the convenience that I am finding outside, there are certain things that you also have to decide by yourself to say how am I going to effect change in people’s lives, is it more satisfying to be helping out people who are not of my country than those that are my countrymen. So, I think it’s for various reasons that people stay outside or come back,” he said.
Asked about the opening of Cure Hospital in Bulawayo where patients are treated for free, he said it was a milestone in the history of health care.
“When I left for the UK, Cure Zimbabwe was just an idea and then coming back two and a half years later and the hospital is there and functional, for me it brings great joy.
As I said earlier, I have interacted with some of the patients before and my hands were tied because we did not have the resources.
Then being in the UK and hearing that there is now some movement on the ground, that the Government was partnering with other stakeholders and coming together to make this dream, which was a dream of mine, come to fruition was something that brought great joy. Coming back and seeing the actual product has been amazing, job satisfaction wise, I must say I am much more satisfied than I was when I was out there,” he said.
He said the resources were there abroad but he wanted to come back home and help.
He said moving forward, his hope is that more specialists and sub-specialists return to Zimbabwe to work.
“What I have realised is that you have to be on the ground to push the agenda of your particular specialty. As long as you are outside the country it is difficult to influence change, it is difficult to get the equipment that you need, you just have to take the step of coming back home, then advocate for other things.
“In the past two weeks there have been a number of young colleagues that have qualified, I know of a pediatric cardiologist, one who has just returned and is based at Mpilo Central Hospital, a pediatric nephrologist based in Harare that also just returned and there is news of one of cardiothoracic surgeons, the first in the country and one of five in Sub Saharan Africa so all those people need to be supported,” said Dr Chitsamatanga.
He also sang praises for the Second Republic that has opened its wings to dialogue and development.
“What I have seen with the Second Republic, they are open and as long as you articulate your vision, I believe that we will have more institutions like this (Cure Hospital) because there is no better satisfaction than being in a place in your own country which is well resourced and you are able to treat patients without worrying whether they can afford or not, where you provide equal opportunity for different patients of different back grounds.
We must advocate for our specialties and also be available with our service then the funding follows you,” he added.
Cure Hospital executive director Mr Jonathan Simpson said they were excited about Dr Chitsamatanga’s return.
“We are excited to have a surgeon with qualifications such as these no matter what nationality they are. The fact that Dr Chitsamatanga is a Zimbabwean makes it so much better. I hope his example will inspire other Zimbabwean medical specialists to find ways of coming home, and I would encourage the ministry to consider what other medical faculties can also enter Public Private Partnerships,” he said.
He added: “We see him as being the first of hopefully many specialists two want to return back to their country not only to bring their services but also their hearts back to Zimbabwe to put back to the nation skills that have been lacking for a long time.
We hope he advocates and brings more people to come back home. I would like to encourage them to come and see how we are working and replicate this in other fields of medicine because we are focusing on orthopedics but there are many different fields that need to be brought to the country.” Chronicle