Feminist Chronicles: Diary 23: Dr Rudo Makunike-Mutasa

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

As a society we often cry foul when certain things are not the way we want them to be yet we would be able to change things if we only gave more thought to the whys of the state of things. For instance, as Zimbabweans we often wonder why women are underrepresented in certain spheres yet we (especially other women as mothers) contribute to women’s absence in those fields. For instance when children are growing up, it is perceived acceptable for the girl to sit inside the house, sit in the kitchen and watch mum (or the maid) do the cooking while the boy is allowed to go outside and play in the mud and bring a bug into the house to scare his ‘light hearted’ sister who will scream her lungs out and rush to report this little rogue of a brother to the mother.

Girls are expected to play with dolls while boys play with cars and so when the toys are brought into the home, the boy knows the dolls are out of bounds and the girl won’t touch that toy car, even if both of them want the other. And so from a very tender age, society gives children limitations and forces them to conform to societal expectations of who they can be and what they should do. So, how then can we have more girls who are curious to know how bacteria grows and festers? How can we have more girls that are curious to see the mechanics of a car and from then develop a desire to design their own version of a car?

I wonder what Dr Rudo Makunike’s life was like when she was growing up? I would like to believe she was one of those girls that were curious about what makes mushroom grow and what causes meat to go bad if not dried or refrigerated. As the first female pathologist, Dr Rudo was drawn to spend her life dedicated to pathology, which is the scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Educated at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Sheffield, she is an outstanding woman. A 1995/96 Fellow of the Gordon Signy Foreign Fellowship of the World Pathology Foundations, Dr Rudo is also a member of the Society for Paediatric pathology. In 2002 she was one of only five pathologists in Zimbabwe. She is also Chairperson of the Department of Histopathology at the University of Zimbabwe.

Dr Rudo Makunike (right-of course) at a meeting of the Society for Paediatric pathology

Her work sounds very technical and complex, but I guess being unfamiliar with the terminology they use in pathology I would find it complicated. What she does is study what causes the disease (etiology), how the disease develops (pathogenesis), what happens when there are structural alterations of cells (morphologic transformations), and the consequences of those changes (clinical manifestations). So it is the work of people like Dr Rudo that helps us to know that AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which is passed on through sex or sharing of infected blood cells (the etiology of AIDS). It is through her kind of work that we know how the HIV spreads itself through the blood of the individual and attacks the white blood cells and once attacked the CD4 cell count decreases hence weakening the immune system of an individual (the pathogenesis and morphologic transformations). And it is also through the work that Dr Rudo does that we know that once an HIV infected person’s immune system fails they fall pray to all sorts of diseases; (mapundu) skin rashes, (chikosoro) coughs and flu, (maronda) sores, (mamota) abscess, the thinning of hair, the change in skin quality and the colour of the lips among other symptoms (these are the clinical manifestations that will enable doctors to say please get tested and let’s see if you are not infected.)

The diagnosis of cancerous cells and explanations of how they affect the body are done by pathologists like Dr Rudo. Autopsies; medical examinations that reveal the cause of death are also done by pathologists. The diagnosis and treatment, the admission into hospital, the prescribed medication and the discharge of patients from hospital depends on the result of tests done by pathologists. So you are now well aware of how important and vital Dr Rudo’s job is and how privileged the nation would be to have more women engaged in the work that she does.

She has published works on research she conducted on the nature of xerodema pigmentosum in Zimbabwe, a disease that results from genetic disorder where the body fails to repair the damage caused by ultraviolet rays and results in individuals getting sunburnt, getting freckles or displaying abnormal features on their skin when exposed to very little light. She has also done research on oral malignant melanoma, a cancerous tissue growth or tumour that is usually located in the oral cavity. She was also part of a team that conducted a clinical study on the effect of providing women with latex diaphragm, lubricant gel, and male condoms as compared to using male condoms only and how that impacts women’s chances of getting a human papillomavirus infection which causes cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva and anus in women.

I really wish our society would encourage girls to grow fungi in their bedrooms, maybe then we would have more Dr Rudos in our midst.