WONCA honours Dr Wongani Kumwenda with Atai's Award

WONCA  is proud to announce that Dr Wongani M. Kumwenda, a dedicated and passionate family medicine registrar from Malawi, has been awarded the esteemed Atai Award for 2023. This award, named in honor of Dr Atai Omoruto, a trailblazing African family physician, is designed to empower African women doctors facing economic barriers, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, by providing them with opportunities to attend WONCA's biennial conferences.

Dr Wongani M. Kumwenda's remarkable dedication to advocating for patients in underserved communities has earned her this prestigious recognition. She currently serves as a family medicine registrar at Nkhoma site under Kamuzu University of Health Sciences and is in her first year of the program. Her commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by patients in resource-constrained settings and her determination to improve healthcare equity have made her a shining example in the field of family medicine.

In her own words, Dr Kumwenda shares her passion for family medicine and her vision for the future: "I love to advocate for my patients, as in most cases, we are serving a population with low literacy levels and limited resources. The case I'll be presenting at WONCA conference 2023 will highlight some of the challenges we face, such as language barriers when services are provided by someone who doesn't know our local language, Chichewa, which affects the quality of care provided to the patients. I engaged with parties involved to prevent such a scenario from happening again."

Dr Kumwenda's commitment to bridging the gap in healthcare service provision extends beyond her advocacy efforts. She aspires to bring basic specialist services to hard-to-reach areas and is dedicated to teaching and mentoring the next generation of healthcare professionals. Furthermore, she places a strong emphasis on quality improvement to ensure the highest level of care for her patients.

Attending the WONCA 2023 conference will provide Dr Kumwenda with invaluable opportunities to learn from her colleagues, share her experiences, and further develop her skills as a leader, advocate, and service provider in the field of family medicine.

WONCA is proud to support and recognize the outstanding work of Dr Wongani M. Kumwenda and other African women doctors who are making a significant impact on healthcare in their communities. The Atai Award serves as a testament to our commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of family medicine.

Please join us in congratulating Dr Wongani M. Kumwenda for her exceptional achievements and her dedication to improving healthcare for all.

From the WONCA Working Party on Women and Family Medicine

Atai's Award

Dr Atai Anna Deborah Omoruto, Ugandan was a very energetic, friendly person and an extraordinary family doctor.  She graduated from Rajasthan University, India in 1982 and completed her MMed (Family Medicine and community practice) at Makerere University, Uganda in 2002. She was married and had 5 children. 

She was a hardworking, dedicated woman who fought for women’s rights. She pioneered the establishment of the Family Medicine program at Makerere University and then became the Head of Department of Family Medicine there for 9 years (2004-2011). She then became Head of Department of Community Medicine in Jinja RR hospital for 4 years (2011-2015). She was the WHO consultant on Ebola and disease   case management in Liberia July-Dec 2015. She was active in teaching and research and was the past President and founder of the Association of Family Medicine in Uganda. Her leadership role in Family Medicine in Uganda and Africa in general was inspiring. Her selflessness, courage, and commitment all her patients, including those with Ebola both in Uganda and Liberia was remarkable.   She took on the challenges of providing care to those most in need, as well continuing her academic work. 

She was also a member of the women’s association, Uganda, and was a direct member of WONCA and active member WWPWFM executive team. I will not forget her presence at the Rural Wonca conference at Rustenburg, South Africa in 2009, where she and Kate Anteyi gathered 20 women from the conference venue to speak about WWPWFM. She inspired me to join WONCA and the Working Party. Her dedication to inspiring women physicians toward Family Medicine and to take up the flag for women’s health was exceptional. 

The Dr Atai Anne Deborah Omoruto Scholarship Award is given in the spirit of Atai’s leadership role in Family Medicine and the community of Africa/world. This is a tribute to her for the advancement of women Family Physicians in Africa. Atai was the posthumous recipient of WONCA 2016 Global Five Star Doctor Award in recognition of her extraordinary service as a family medicine leader over many years, her service to the people of Uganda, and her extraordinary leadership tackling the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Atai passed away in May 2016, a shock and a great loss to those of us who knew her.

 The Award criteria:

The aim of the award is to support opportunities for African women doctors whose economic circumstances limit their ability to attend WONCA biennial conferences, particularly women early in their careers. 

The candidate for the Atai Omoruto Award should be an African woman family physician or family medicine resident in Africa, who demonstrates significant contributions in Africa, in any the following areas: 

• Leadership in Family Medicine at the institutional, local, or national level 
• Commitment to the advancement of women in family medicine 
• Clinical courage and selflessness in providing care to the most vulnerable populations.

Award Winner:2023

Dr Wongani Kumwenda from Malawi was awarded the Dr Atai Anne Deborah Omoruto Scholarship Award:2023. She is a young registrar, Masters in Family Medicine at Kamuzu University, Malawi. She has interest in primary care and was working as a Principal medical officer in a district hospital before she joined the Family Medicine program.

Her supervisor describes her as highly committed person to her patients and the community where she works. She is a passionate and hardworking person.

She is allocated to a rural community, Lilongwe which is the poorest population of Malawi (70,000 people) and has the highest rate of severe acute malnutrition especially in children.

She was involved in community outreach programs during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide health talks and support, and in meetings with stakeholders on the low vaccination uptake within the Dedza district, Malawi. She is engaged with the malaria reduction campaign and management within the district and assists with quality improvement projects at the facility.

During Cholera endemic, she volunteered to work in the cholera Isolation centre which was not patronized by the local staff members as most of the people were afraid of contracting Cholera. She was in the cholera rapid response committee. She trained the community on hand hygiene, safe water, and food. The most painful part of the work in a low resourced setting are the following: limited drugs and medical supplies and the patients donot have money to pay for these medicines or care. Family Medicine program has helped me to appreciate its relevance in these setting and taught me to manage the patients with limited resources. Since patients cannot attend the secondary or tertiary hospitals, one finds modalities to just improve the quality of life for the patients by thinking outside of the box with limited resources. Family medicine has taught me to be an advocate for the patient, work with communities to solve some of the problems and it improves the relationship with the patients and their families through communication.

She mentors the staff of the facility with guidance in management and quality improvement. She supervises and teaches undergraduate medical students who train at her hospital. She is engaged in continuous professional development of the staff, provides lectures and drills etc.

Donation for this award:
Donation to Atai’s scholarship award can be made by any region and by any colleagues around the world. This will support the African region to sponsor a woman for an international or local conference within Africa. Payment is strictly through WONCA administration, and the money is not distributed to other funds. Wonca has implemented an organization-wide donation system through “Donorbox”, and Wonca suggests that we should use this system to collect funds for the Atai bursary.

Author: Dr Elizabeth Reji, Chair: WWPWFM