South African Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng has joined the presenting team on The Cure, Al Jazeera's award-winning medical series. She presented segments in both Liberia and Zimbabwe for the show's fifth season, which is currently screening.
Born in the Free State but based in Gauteng, Dr Mofokeng is a sexual and reproductive health doctor and activist, best known locally as Kaya FM's resident doctor, Dr T.
Traveling to Liberia was particularly eye-opening for Dr Mofokeng. "Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world," she says. "It is estimated that three women die every day from complications during childbirth. Many of these deaths are preventable with simple surgery and adequate equipment. However, a chronic lack of doctors here means that many maternity wards are overstretched and understaffed."
The Ebola epidemic killed 184 doctors in Liberia, creating a chronic skills shortage. "In the last government report, Liberia had only 117 practicing doctors [in a country of 4.5m people]," says Dr Mofokeng. "This depleted healthcare system is being supported by midwives, who through no other choice, are taking on the risks of surgery to help hundreds of mothers facing difficult and possibly life-threatening births..."
The process is called task shifting and is run by international charity Maternal Childcare Advocacy International.
Dr Mofokeng's first stop in Liberia was the CB Dunbar maternity hospital in rural Bong County, where just three fulltime doctors serve the 65 000 population. She meets one of them, Dr Obed Dolo, who is also the master trainer at the hospital responsible for upskilling nurses. "Dr. Dolo's aim is to train midwives in months, rather than the years normally required to become a qualified doctor," says Dr Mofokeng.
The success at CB Dunbar has resulted in the project being rolled out to two more hospitals.
Dr Mofokeng also visited Redemption hospital in Monrovia, which provides free health care to a large slum area. With the Ebola epidemic, the hospital became overwhelmed with patients and had to be shut down. It recently re-opened but conditions are tough, with basic equipment, few staff and a shortage of drugs.
Dr Mofokeng witnessed a woman giving birth during an electricity outage, in sweltering heat without air-conditioning, and heard of nurses operating by torchlight, sometimes improvising with a needle holder with a blade on it when a scalpel was not available.
She also witnessed the birth of two breech twins, which were the wrong way up and had to be taken out via Caesarean section. With neither baby breathing and minutes passing, Dr Mofokeng put on gloves and stepped in to help keep them alive, without incubators or even a stand for the team to use to resuscitate them.
Visibly emotional afterwards, Dr Mofokeng said, "I just couldn't bare to watch and do nothing. The babies seem like they will make it but there's no IV lines, there's no incubators, there's no ICU. In any other setting, these kids could have been incubated right then and cared for properly in ICU. To think that there's so many other kids who don't make it, every day... My heart's very sore at the moment."
Another South African, Kathy Hearn, was the series producer of The Cure.
Dr Mofokeng's segment on HIV treatment in Zimbabwe screens on Al Jazeera English on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 1830 SAST / 1630 GMT, with her segment on Liberia screening the following Thursday, 28 July 2016 at the same time.
About The Cure
Presented by practicing medics, The Cure takes you on a journey to the frontiers of world health, from cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs to advances in affordable healthcare for those who need it most. This series looks at some of the world's most intractable health problems and the inspirational people working to find a cure. For more information, follow @ajcure on Twitter or visit http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/thecure/.