Lesotho needs more pathologists: Dr Nteene
…says there is a dire need for career guidance in schools
WHEN Litheba Nteene was growing up in the 1980s in Leribe, she neither imagined nor aspired to become a medical doctor.
Instead, she only became a medical doctor because of circumstances. If she was not good at science subjects, she would never have been a doctor.
Now 56, Dr Nteene is one of the country’s few pathologists.
The overly shy woman has never been one to back down from a challenge. In fact, when science subjects were regarded a preserve for boys, she excelled in her science subjects at St Mary’s in Roma setting the stage for her to enroll into medical school at Szczecin University in Poland.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1990.
Dr Nteene said had she received career guidance, she would have landed in another profession.
“Growing up, I never thought I would be a medical doctor,” Dr Nteene said in a recent interview.
“It is just that I excelled in chemistry, mathematics and physics and found myself eligible to study the programme.
“Back then in the 1980s, we were not exposed to many career options. Our role models were teachers, nurses and people we interacted with back at home. This has sadly remained the same situation even now as young people are still not exposed to the vast careers out there.
“Children lean towards what they are exposed to. If a child comes from a family where there are many teachers, he or she seems to go that way. So, as a country, there is a need to teach our children that there are a lot of different careers available.”
Although in a small way, the mother of four is already assisting medical students to choose marketable careers that are in demand in the country.
On return from Poland in 1990 Dr Nteene landed her first job at Leribe Hospital (now Motebang Hospital) as a general medical practitioner. Her experience gave her a conviction that Lesotho desperately needs more specialists in different medical faculties to stop the trend of relying on South Africa to diagnose different ailments.
“We must train more anatomical pathologists in Lesotho because they are the ones who can diagnose diseases for general practitioners to render the correct treatments. The lack of anatomical pathologists frustrates general practitioners because they support diagnosis. With the current situation, general practitioners do not have the support of histology; they need anatomical pathologists to investigate the cause of symptoms a patient will be experiencing.”
Among many others, Lesotho does not have clinical and biological pathologists, a situation which Dr Nteene says reminds her of the time when she returned home from Poland in 1990. At the time, most countries were researching about the HIV and AIDS.
And now that Lesotho is also battling the Covid-19 pandemic, it is heartbreaking that again the country must rely on South Africa.
“When I returned from Poland, it was a time when each country was watching out for itself. Pathologists in each country were studying the virus to find ways of protecting their citizens. This is the same scenario today. It is heart-breaking to rely on South Africa for tests.
“We should be running our own tests rather than sending specimens to South Africa for tests where the required medical expertise is available. It is a disadvantage for countries like Lesotho that have to rely on others in times of pandemics as another country that is fighting the virus like us.
“I hope that more medical doctors will choose to specialise in pathology because we need more pathologists for times like this when there are pandemics.”
For the few years that she was in general practice, Dr Nteene developed a deep desire to investigate causes of ailments. This saw her enrolling for an Anatomical Pathology Fellowship at the University of KwaZulu Natal (KZN). She returned home after completing the programme in 2001 and started working for the government. At the time, she was stationed at the country’s then only referral hospital, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, in Maseru.
She was to leave in 2005 for a job at the Namibia Institute of Pathology where she worked until 2008.
“After practising as a general practitioner, I found joy studying the cause of diseases. So, I took up a specialisation in anatomical pathology. However, because of lack of exposure I had to leave Lesotho and went to Namibia to practice and gain more experience while being mentored.
“At that time, I remember here in Lesotho we were investigating about a thousand tissue samples but when we went to Namibia there were hundreds of thousands of samples that were under scrutiny. This shows that we still have a long way to go as a country considering that the population of both countries is in the same range.
“Here in Lesotho I had a few people whom I could look up to. I was at the forefront most of the time. I did not want to mislead myself, so I went to Namibia where there is a lot of study material, something that we do not have in Lesotho. My job demands studying, so I had to be in a conducive environment,” Dr Nteene said.
In 2012, while working for the National Laboratory Services in South Africa, Dr Nteene enrolled for a Master’s degree, in Cytopathology, at Stellenbosch University. After completing her programme, she came back to Lesotho in 2015 and started working at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) under Ampath, a South African pathology laboratory and healthcare organisation.
When Ampath’s contract with QMMH ended in 2019, Dr Nteene opened her private practice, Elitepath.
But to demonstrate the dire need for pathologists, since the expiry of Ampath’s contract with QMMH in 2019, the facility has been asking patience to outsource pathological services. This means patients are paying more for the various laboratory tests that would have been prescribed by doctors.
“It is a sad situation that is frustrating for doctors because they do not have the support that they need to execute their duties,” Dr Nteene said.
In her own small way, Dr Nteene has been involved in career guidance mentoring a few medical students. And one of her successes is in her own household where two of her children are already in the medical field.
“My two older children are both in the medical profession. One is a vaccinologist and the other is studying oncology. The younger two are still in school,” Dr Nteene said.