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Paediatrician puts spotlight on kidney conditions in SA children

Dr Nokukhanya Ngubane-Mwandla says there is an acute shortage of paediatric nephrologists in SA

Dr Nokukhanya Ngubane-Mwandla.
Dr Nokukhanya Ngubane-Mwandla.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Foundation

Dr Nokukhanya Ngubane-Mwandla decided she wanted to be a paediatrician in high school. She found a way to turn this dream into a reality, and the 34-year-old is now sub-specialising to help children with kidney conditions.

Ngubane-Mwandla was born in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, on Christmas Eve in 1985. Her mother is a teacher and her father a chief magistrate. After studying medicine at the University of Pretoria and qualifying as a doctor in 2009, she completed her studies at the Wits University and became a paediatrician.

For her second master’s degree in medicine, she will be investigating the impact of chronic kidney disease on children who have been patients at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in the last five years. Chris Hani Baragwanath is a teaching hospital for the Wits Medical School and the third-largest hospital in the world, with about 3,200 beds.

Acute shortage of paediatric nephrologists in SA

Ngubane-Mwandla has been working as a specialist paediatric consultant at Sebokeng Regional Hospital in Vanderbijlpark.

“There is an acute shortage of paediatric nephrologists in SA,” she says. “There is also a relatively high incidence of kidney problems among SA children. Some of these problems are congenital, which means that children are born with it, but several conditions are caused by malnourishment and gastric problems,” she says.

Ngubane-Mwandla says that socioeconomic problems contribute to chronic kidney disease in SA’s children.

An advocate for those who cannot fight for themselves

“It’s my personal mission to help and be an advocate for the vulnerable and those who cannot fight for themselves — children,” Ngubane-Mwandla says. “It really adds to your life if you have a job you enjoy. I am so lucky in that respect.”

She laughs when asked how she fits work, family and studying into a 24-hour day. “I go to sleep when the children go to bed, and then I get up at 4am so I can study without interruptions.” She says it takes true dedication in the winter, and that her husband is supportive of her career.

When she’s not spending time with her husband and two sons, she enjoys reading and cycling. Besides being a Sunday school teacher, she also supports two outreach programmes, Doctors without Borders and SOS Children’s Villages.

Bringing critical skills to SA health sector

“I was not expecting to receive the Discovery award to study paediatric nephrology. My mentor and supervisor, professor Karen Petersen, encouraged me to apply. I was astonished and thrilled to hear that my application had been successful,” she adds.

The Discovery Foundation Sub-Specialist Awards aim to contribute to human resources for clinical and academic medicine by supporting further sub-specialist training, research & development in health faculties in SA. Ngubane-Mwandla’s work will bring much-needed skills to the health sector.

“It’s an honour and privilege to be part of the nephrology sub-speciality fellowship programme, and the Discovery Foundation has made that possible for me,” say Dr Ngubane-Mwandla.

“I want to help improve the lives of children with congenital and acquired renal pathology. By sharing knowledge and skills, and continued research, we can make a positive impact in our communities.”

This article was paid for by the Discovery Foundation.

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