Discovery asked the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation to identify young doctors who are making an impact in their communities. That’s how we met Dr Mfanukhona Nyawo, a medical officer at Bethesda Hospital, Umthombo graduate and youth role model.

In 2015, Dr Mfanukhona Nyawo graduated from Wits University with a MBBCh degree and a mission to help young people in his community achieve the same heights as he had.

“I’m working as general practitioner in the public sector,” the 28-year-old doctor says. “I am a grade one medical officer at Bethesda Hospital, with a special interest in internal medicine. As a result, I spend most of my time in medical wards and out-patient departments.”

Situated in the small village of Ubombo in KwaZulu-Natal, Bethesda Hospital is a 230-bed district hospital in the Umkhanyakude health district, home of the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation.


A dream realised

“I first heard about Umthombo in 2007 when I was in grade 11, when it was still called the Friends of Mosvold scholarship scheme. One of the scheme’s alumni, Dr Mfundo Mathenjwa, visited our school,” he says.

“Then, in 2008, I attended a career export day at Mosvold Hospital for the Department of Health and Friends of Mosvold recruitments programme. It was then that I decided to apply for the bursary as my goal to become a doctor was becoming clearer.”

But Dr Nyawo’s ambition to be a doctor started much earlier. “I grew up in Manyiseni Reserve, Mayaluka area, in the far north of KwaZulu-Natal, under the Mathenjwa Tribal Authority. I am one of seven siblings from my mother’s side and one of 22 siblings from my father’s side,” he says.

“Many factors contributed to my career; for example, growing up looking at my mother’s hard work to make sure we eat and attend school like other kids, and having people from my village studying medicine and other careers, knowing we share common backgrounds.”

Dr Nyawo says the pursuit of academic excellence, teachers’ influence and career export days helped shape his career choice. “And last, but not least, I had a fracture when I was in grade 9 and was treated at Mosvold Hospital. After that, my dream was made and grew in me. This influenced my subjects choices and academic performance.”

Dr Nyawo secured a scholarship and started studying in 2009. He speaks about the challenges he had to overcome to become a doctor. “Poverty and adversity, low socio-economic status, poor education systems. In rural education, writing matric exams without completing the year’s syllabus,” he explains. “There were also language difficulties that made communication and learning difficult. And I had social anxiety and low self-esteem.”


Uplifting the youth of Manyiseni

Despite facing huge challenges, today Dr Nyawo is a qualified doctor and the founder of the Manyiseni Youth Development Agency. “I’ve always aimed to help and guide people, and, as a result, I started a small non-profit organisation to help bridge the gap between varsity and my society by empowering the youth with information and guidance relating to career opportunities.”

“We don’t choose to be role models, but our behaviour and actions, for example making other people successful, influence how people see you,” he adds. “My goal is seeing young people getting the same opportunities as me, if not better.”

He hopes to contribute towards improving the socio-economic status of his community by uplifting its healthcare. “I can only hope that we lift ourselves out to this with education and good health-seeking behaviour.”


On the front lines of COVID-19


Despite the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, Dr Nyawo is still working at Bethesda Hospital, covering multiple areas of healthcare, including paediatric and adult outpatients, and the HIV and AIDS and multidrug-resistant TB clinics.

“I make sure I treat patients who might have COVID-19 with delicate care, not forgetting the use of personal protective equipment at all times,” he says.

“Personally, I’m worried for my parents as they are old and have other medical conditions that put them at an increased risk of a drastic outcome if they get infected. I’m also worried that I might be a cause of transmitting the disease from work to family members. It’s also delaying some of my goals, such as completing a diploma on HIV and AIDS and primaries in internal medicine.”

What keeps him motivated? “The Hippocratic Oath, and knowing that we cannot save them all, but the skills we have are rare and most people need them to survive,” he says. “I need the salary to care for my own family too, as I am the sole breadwinner.”

In the fight against COVID-19, Dr Nyawo is experiencing many challenges. “We’re running short of personal protective equipment and testing kits. Communities not strictly following the lockdown regulations, putting us at risk,” he says. “And critically ill patients having dates cancelled for elective procedures or transfers to referral institutions as a result of the virus.”

“We are working as a team with community and other healthcare workers of Bethesda Hospital on distributing information and educating communities and patients about preventative strategies,” he concludes.


Discovery thanks Dr Mfanukhona Nyawo for his continued work on the front line in rural KwaZulu-Natal.



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