Tandzile Simelane, a second year resident at Aga Khan University Medical College, East Africa
Tandzile Simelane is the first doctor in her extended family. Hailing from a small town in north-western Eswatini, she decided to chart her own path away from her family’s expectations. After finishing medical school at the University of Botswana, Tandzile decided to go back to her home country Swaziland where she worked for three years.
While working at a paediatric and adult HIV/TB clinic, she honed her skills in infectious disease and appreciated the multi-disciplinary approach in patient care.
Shortly after in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic came knocking. Tandzile and her colleagues did not anticipate the impact the pandemic would have on the healthcare systems.
Unfortunately, she tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be away from her family.
“The time I spent in isolation was an opportunity to try new things such as meditation and journaling which were new concepts to deal with during the deafening silence of solitude. I was in home isolation for a period of two weeks and later tested negative.”
Tandzile explains how most of the COVID-19 testing and management services had to be outsourced to South Africa. In this, she saw an opportunity.
“We doubled in anatomical pathology when we did post-mortem exams exposure, but never went to the lab to see how to properly package a specimen, how to get it to the lab and appreciate the turn-around time of COVID-19 testing. We needed to know the steps that the lab takes to ensure the integrity of the specimen.”
When she returned to her work station, Tandzile joined the ‘Education on Cancer Prevention and Treatment’ programme - an initiative that decentralized specialised cancer care to communities.
“The infrastructure in these small towns and communities is not favourable. By bringing health services to the community, we were able to follow up on medical cases and care for those who could not afford to travel to the nearest health facility.”
Tandzile knew she had to grow her skills and become a specialist. When applying to the Aga Khan University’s Master of Medicine programme, she was shortlisted for an interview. However, a few days to the interview, she was met with an obstacle – political unrest in her hometown had caused a cut-off in internet connection.
“I was stressed out! I wanted to go as far as getting internet connections via South Africa. To make things worse, due to the pandemic there were travel restrictions so I couldn’t leave the house. I thank my parents and siblings who kept encouraging me and stayed positive that it will work out.”
On the morning of the interview at 6am, the internet connection was miraculously restored. Tandzile knew this was her moment. She was successful in her entry examination and interviews to join the clinical pathology residency programme.
“This is my dream! To learn the intricacies of laboratory medicine with the best faculty and hopefully, one day share those attained skills with people back home in Eswatini.”