Each month through the #WednesdayCelebrateWomen campaign, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek celebrates inspiring women making a positive impact in Namibia.
For this month’s #WCW #WednesdayCelebrateWomen, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Dr. Peggy Emvula, the first Namibian Radiation Oncologist, doing remarkable work for cancer patients in Namibia. Check out her interview with UNIC Windhoek to learn more about this amazing woman!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career? What is one of your career achievements that you are most proud of?
I was born in Namibia some 57 years ago. I come from a humble family of six siblings. My parents are both late. I had my primary education in Northern Namibia and my secondary education at Dobra in Windhoek. In 1979 I left the country for Angola and then Zambia, where I underwent training for journalism at the Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe. I then returned back to Angola in 1981 where I worked as a journalist for the Combatant, a paper for the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). In 1982 I left for Sofia, Bulgaria to study medicine at the Medical Academy Sofia. My dream has always been that of becoming a doctor with the aim to help people. I completed my medical training in 1989 and came back to Namibia. I got employed by the Health Ministry since 1990. During my work, I noticed patients with cancer especially those who were advanced and could not be sent to South Africa for treatment but could be offered short courses of treatment at home which was not available then. So when an opportunity came up to go for training in cancer treatment, I immediately applied and was granted the opportunity. I am a proud mother of one son. One of my career achievements I am very proud of is being able to fulfill my dreams. Cancer is one of the most feared diseases by man. I am able to bring smiles on my patients’ and their families’ faces. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a patient coming in on a wheelchair and then after treatment coming back walking on his/her two feet or coming in crying from pain and going out smiling because you were able to alleviate that.
What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality?
Women still don’t enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society including economic participation and decision making. Different behaviours and aspirations and needs of women and men are not equally valued and favoured. For me, gender equality is just a dream we are living. Traditionally women still suffer discrimination and exclusion from decision making.
In terms of women’s empowerment, what would you like to see happen in the next generation?
I would like to see women representation and high participation in all sectors of life…political, socio – economic, and cultural. Women should vigorously involve themselves in all decision making processes. They should not allow themselves to be left out. They should be part and parcel of the process.
As the first Namibian radiation oncologist specialist in the country; can you tell us a bit about what that entails?
I was lucky to be granted the opportunity to go and study for cancer treatment and I feel happy my dream could be fulfilled. My daily work entails seeing patients diagnosed with cancer and putting them through the process of treatment and keeping contact with them as long as they live. We are a dedicated team which includes doctors, nurses, medical physicists and therapy radiographers. The team work as one and no one is more important than the other. We all depend on each other and work as a family.
What are your thoughts on healthcare in Namibia?
I can only speak for the public health because that is what I know. The Namibian population should feel lucky because the Government really takes care of their health issues. You do not need money to be treated. The only thing I feel is not being addressed is health education. People should know what to do and how to take care of their own health.
What’s your take on cancer awareness in Namibia, and what do you think can be done to better the level of awareness of preventable cancers?
Cancer awareness in Namibia is very low. This is all related to health education. Programs on cancer should be provided in the media. People especially in the rural areas listen to radios. Information should be given on a regular basis on cancer and all the communicable and non-communicable diseases – how to behave, what to eat, which signs to look for and where to go for assistance. This should not only be done on special occasions like according to health calendar, but on a constant basis.
In your experience, what is the most common type of cancer in Namibia and which gender is mostly affected?
The most common cancer in Namibia is skin cancer and affects more men than women.
The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which include 17 Goals that aim to transform the world by 2030. Which of the SDGs resonates with you the most and why? How do you / plan to work towards achieving this goal?
SDG 3 – Good Health and well-being. A healthy nation will conquer everything – study, work, eradicate poverty, hunger, they will be able to work and change the face of the country. One can only do, change and create if you are healthy and well. A sick nation will not achieve anything.
Why is it important to empower women and girls to pursue careers in the medical field, especially in a society where traditional cultural roles dictate the value and rights of women?
Traditionally, the medical career was and even up to now is regarded as a male job. In my work even up to now if a patient comes into a room where there is a male and female, they will address the man as a doctor and a female as a nurse. That’s why I feel women should stand up and show they are capable of achieving what men can achieve. Women have to change this mind-set and they can only do it through study. They should claim their place in the society and chance those beliefs.
After a long day at work, what do you do to unwind?
I go home and relax. I do exercises especially Yoga which I find very relaxing. Medicine is a very evolving field, so one has to read regularly to keep up with the pace for new developments.
What motivates you, and who is your role model?
I am highly motivated by seeing happy and appreciative patients. Nothing makes me happier than curing a cancer patient or at least relieving his or her pain. This gives me courage and strength to go on. My role models are my parents, my family and my humble beginnings, as well as those medical people who put in all efforts to make the world a better place.
What is your advice to girls following their dreams?
Don’t ever allow anybody whatsoever to tell you you cannot do something. If you have a dream, move forward and be prepared to get it. Fulfil it. You are better than that. Don’t quit, don’t fall back. Pursue it. Chase your dream until you win!!!!!!