“Safe surgery is tied up with the socio-economic status, political participation and education of women.”
Ronke is an Associate Professor and Consultant in Anaesthesia at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. Her sub-specialty interests are paediatric anaesthesia and Training in CPR. She is happily married with 2 grown-up children.
Why is access to surgery essential for women’s health?
A third of the 4500 surgeries performed at my hospital in Lagos last year were related to women’s reproductive health. This is a substantial percentage for one ‘special group,’ and emphasizes the importance of ready access to safe surgery for women.
Yet not all women are lucky to get this professional treatment; the maternal mortality rate in Nigeria is approximately 585 per 100,000 live births.
Why did you become an anaesthetist?
I always wanted to be a doctor, even as a young girl growing up in Lagos in the 1960s. With two aunties showing that women were just as capable as men, and could be doctors, my mind was made up.
I’m passionate about helping the vulnerable and the sick, and it gives me great satisfaction to see the outcome and the value one person’s actions can have on another person.
Can you tell us about one of your most memorable cases?
I’m in a profession that has its fair share of risks, but I like to look on the positive side of my work, the good we do and the relief we bring.
Many years ago we treated a 5-year-old child with a large cystic hygroma [a growth that appears on a baby’s neck]. The surgery was difficult, and afterwards she was unable to breathe on her own. We admitted her to our intensive care unit, which didn’t have a functioning ventilator at the time.
The trainees and technicians took turns to manually ventilate her for 100 days.
The case emphasizes the importance of teamwork, perseverance – and above all, commitment to your patient.
What is the government doing to reduce maternal mortality?
In the last six years, the Lagos State Government opened six specialized maternal and child health hospitals, with full surgical facilities. This means more theatres, more surgeries, more training and better health service delivery.
What is the role of women in the surgical ecosystem?
Safe surgery is tied up with the socio-economic status, political participation and education of women. We need to support groups that advocate for women’s health issues – women shouldn’t have to travel such long distances for basic care.
I take as one of my critical roles in life, to uplift and raise the bar for young women. To show them that it is indeed possible to have both a happy home front and a sky that is the limit in their career.
What is your goal for women in the medical profession?
I want them to realize that they’re part of a unique team. Many organisations assume that women can’t cope with the top positions and we need to change that mindset. We need to be amongst the counted when it comes to doing our job well.
Women need to be fully involved in the implementation and management of healthcare, as well as in the policy and mapping of future health plans for their community – and indeed the world.