Home » Health Services » Chitiyo – Death of Medical Icon [analysis]

The death of Zimbabwe’s eminent pathologist, Dr McLeod Ernest Chitiyo, has robbed the country and Africa of a medical icon who pioneered the struggle for black empowerment four decades ago when blacks were still marginalised from the mainstream medical industry. Dr Chitiyo, who died on March 2, aged 83 in Harare after battling a kidney ailment for a long time, was one of a rare breed of medical doctors who proved that it was possible for blacks to venture into white dominated sectors of the economy and prosper.

Inspired by the legacy of his father, Ernest Chitiyo, who founded businesses in the Mbare suburb of Harare, Dr Chitiyo went into private laboratory practice in a joint venture partnership with Dr George Barclay in 1972.

They ran the practice from 1972 until 1985 when they sold the business to Cimas, a medical health insurance company.

Dr Chitiyo, who was the country’s first black pathologist, was retained by Cimas as a consultant until September 2013 when he retired.

He is an unsung medical icon, who championed black empowerment some four decades ago.

Though largely out of sight of the general political or public life, his decision inspired black economic empowerment policies in the post-independence era.

Since independence in 1980, a number blacks have ventured into private practice opening laboratories, surgeries, private hospitals and other areas in the country’s medical sector.

University of Zimbabwe director of the Institute of Continuing Health Education and specialist urologist, Mr Christopher Samkange said the death of Dr Chitiyo had robbed Zimbabwe of one the most dedicated and gifted medical practitioners who contributed immensely towards the development of the country’s health sector.

He said Dr Chitiyo was an African pathologist who was among the first black medical practitioners brave enough to open laboratories at a time when the country’s medical sector was still dominated by whites.

“He leaves a unique legacy to us. He demonstrated to us that it was possible for blacks to run their own medical laboratories professionally,” he said.

“He was the first black pathologist to open a laboratory in Zimbabwe and the entire southern Africa region.

“He ran his branches very well and was instrumental in the fight against HIV in Zimbabwe as well as ensuring that Zimbabwe was ranked sixth in the world in terms of having the safest blood bank in the world.”

With his never ending enthusiasm, Dr Chitiyo and his partner quickly grew their private practice into a successful business and managed to spread to various parts of the country.

For more than five decades, the name and voice of Dr Chitiyo resonated with entrepreneurial power and concern for change in the country’s medical sector.

As medical director of the National Blood Services Zimbabwe, the country’s blood bank became a World Health Organisation best practice for blood hygiene, with respect to HIV and Aids.

Dr Chitiyo aocated for a national response to HIV and Aids, and little wonder he became the first chairman of the National Aids Council before it was legislated.

He was pivotal in aocating for the AIDS levy, which has proved vital in supporting activities to reduce the country’s HIV prevalence rates over the past decade.

His long time friend, Dr Sipho Zwana spoke glowingly of Dr Chitiyo.

“He was very humorous, very studious, principled and always carried a guitar. He was a keen musician who sang and kept us entertained throughout our university days,” said Dr Zwana, a friend since March 1954.

“We were very close friends and after graduation we encouraged each other to do better than a general practitioner.

“He went into pathology and I went into anaesthetics.”

The medical fraternity paid glowing tribute to Dr Chitiyo.

“The medical fraternity has lost a mentor, a teacher and a professional who will be hard to replace,” said Dr Andrew Cakana, a specialist haematologist (a doctor who specialises in diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs).

“We have to celebrate his life. He was a man of efficacy and he wanted quality service.”

Said Dr Rudo Makunike-Mutasa, secretary general of the Pathologists Association of Zimbabwe: “Dr Chitiyo was the first indigenous pathologist. He was a man with a vision. He saw the vision and ran with the vision.

“He swarm in uncharted waters. Pathology is the frontier of medicine. Dr McLeod Chitiyo set the path for us. He was the fountain of wisdom and a repository of scientific knowledge. We will miss him, our esteemed mentor.”

She said Dr Chitiyo touched the lives of many people and quietly served from behind in a passionate and professional manner.

“Pathologists are the doctors of doctors. Dr Chitiyo was a gallant doctor of science,” Dr Makunike-Mutasa said.

“We as an association will guarantee that the name of Dr Chitiyo will never be forgotten. His name will be permanent legacy in the history of pathology in Zimbabwe.”

Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa urged scholars to author material on Zimbabwe’s medical icons who braved through colonial racial injustice to support the delivery of health care systems to the disaantaged black majority.

Speaking at a funeral service of Dr Chitiyo at Northside Community Church in the capital recently, Dr Parirenyatwa said the history of the country’s first crop of black doctors needs to be written to help acquaint the new generation with the history of a committed and revolutionary generation of black medical pioneers.

“Dr Chitiyo was a brilliant and illustrious man. Together with his compatriots, my father – Dr Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, Dr Sipho Zwana, Dr Silas Mundawarara, Dr Edward Pswarayi and many others that followed were committed to serving the black majority,” he said.

“The history of this medical generation needs to be written. This was a unique generation of medical doctors that worked under tough colonial injustices.

“Dr Chitiyo qualified during the Federation (of Rhodesia and Nyasaland) era. He was a committed man, I must say. This early generation of black medical doctors was so committed than this younger generation.”

The documentation of the early generation of black doctors, he said, would help the younger generation to appreciate how these medical icons shaped the country’s economic, social and political developments. The memorial service was punctuated by drama, song and dance as mourners celebrated the legacy of Dr Chitiyo.

Dr Zwana said his friend was a humorous man. “He was a humorous man. At university he was good at imitating lectures. He kept us entertained. He had bicycle which he called ‘Chaka-mforce!” he said.

“The sad thing about life, is that you make friends but as time goes you lose friends. We were the only two survivors of the medical class of 1954 at the University of Natal. I enjoyed 61 years of friendship and I will always treasure it.”

Dr Mundawarara’s son Mudiwa, presented 58 roses to signify the friendship Dr Chitiyo had with his late father.

Said Reverend Gary Cross: “Death is a leveller. If God is your treasure, no matter what difficulties you go through heaven will be yours.

“We need to celebrate this generation which survived from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe against all odds. Live for others and God. Dr Chitiyo is alive with God today because he lived for others.”

Dr Chitiyo was born on November 30, 1932 at Old Umtali Mission and spent his entire career, from medical school to private practice and retirement practicing, teaching and promoting pathology in the country. He helped train many of the leading surgical pathologists in the country.

In 1949 he went to Adams College in KwaZulu Natal where he wrote matric in 1953. After passing his matric, he won a scholarship to study medicine.

He enrolled for medicine in 1954 and completed his degree in 1960 at the University of Natal. Dr Chitiyo served as a government medical officer in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland before proceeding to further his education as a pathologist at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the University of London UK in 1971.

Upon his return home, he served as a Government pathologist for three years before going into private practice. He also served in various boards and professional bodies both at the local, national and international level.

Throughout his professional career, Dr Chitiyo took pride in rendering only the best with each project. Mr Samkange said he had a g commitment to quality.

“The quality of workmanship has been the hallmark of his practice and he trained so many doctors in the country,” he said.

Dr Chitiyo had a philanthropic spirit, which he demonstrated through his support for the NBSZ for more than 20 years as well as establishing Dr McLeod Chitiyo scholarship for best medical student in pathology.

He is survived by his wife Wynona, two children Knox and Catherine and two grandchildren.

He was laid to rest on March 7 at Warren Hills cemetery in Harare.

Source : The Herald