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Meet the pioneer of medical studies at Makerere University

Prof Krishna Somers has had a distinguished medical career as a cardiologist. Somers was a leader in medicine studies in Makerere University medical school.

He joined the university, then known as Makerere University College, in 1957. Now in his 80s, he has kept his enthusiastic verve of medicine as in the yesteryears and remains a mentor, professional, practitioner and researcher.

His expertise, skills and pioneering efforts in teaching and training in cardiology have won him respect and accolades all across the world.

“Makerere University was extending its program in medical education and I was recruited to join Prof Arthur Williams in the department of medicine. I was one of the two lecturers then,” he told The Observer.

As a pioneer lecturer he embarked on aggressive research with Prof. Paul D’Abela on endomyocardial fibrosis also known as davies disease. The disease leads to the narrowing of the right or left ventricle cavities of the heart.

When the new Mulago was opened in 1962, the medical school was given £10,000(Shs 34m) by National and Grindlays bank in Kampala and it was used to buy basic equipment for a new heart laboratory. This became the site of all research work that they did.

The two taught cardiology with a pioneer class of 12 students whose numbers have burgeoned over the years. Somers has trained numerous physicians in cardiology from Uganda and abroad.

These include: Prof Charles Olweny, the vice chancellor of Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi, Dr Ephraim Batambuze based at Nakasero Hospital and Prof Thomas Ogada, the dean of medicine at the University of Nairobi among others.

Olweny hails Somers as a mentor from the time he joined Makerere University in 1961.

“He was my resident tutor at North Corte hall (Nsibirwa) and even guided me during my internship at internal medicine at Mulago Hospital,” he said.

On his [Somers] most remarkable moment at Makerere University, he exclaims: “It was a joy when we produced our first research papers on endomyocardial fibrosis.”

However, challenges of dealing with a multiplicity of diseases, some of them related to poverty interfered. For his unique achievements and contributions, the university honoured him with a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship which enabled him to acquire skill and experience in specialised investigations in heart disease.

His career at Makerere University ended in 1974 in the Amin era. Thereafter, he took up a new job as a consultant in medical education for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Papua, New Guinea. Here, Somers was involved in drafting the new curriculum of medicine at University of Papua New Guinea medical school.

He was later appointed physician and associate professor of medicine at Royal Perth Hospital, University of Western Australia in 1974.

Early Life

Somers was born in Durban, South Africa and attended Sastri College in Durban for high school. Upon completion of high school, he won a scholarship to the University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg which enabled him entrance to the university to pursue medicine. He graduated from the university in 1949.

“During my final year at Witwatersrand, I was honoured with the Craib prize,” he said.

After qualifying, he worked in mission hospitals in South Africa because it was difficult for a non white to work in a hospital where there were white nursing staffs. Thereafter, he travelled to India on a scholarship to study paediatrics and a year later, went to Britain and worked at Hammer-Smith hospital in London between 1952-1957. This is where his career in cardiology was formed.

Achievements

Somers has been the recipient of many awards and honours including: Wellcome Foundation Fellowship (1960), German Academic Exchange Service Fellowship (1968) and World Health Organisation Fellowship (1970).

He has also been a prolific writer of medical literature in peer reviewed journals and chapters in books such as the ‘Endomyocardial fibrosis’ and Prevention of chemical accidents: the health dimension.’

Some of his editorial consultant appointments include:  Medicine Today, the East African Medical Journal and the South African Medical Journal. He has also spent time as a visiting professor at the University of the West Indies, ministry of Health in the government of Pakistan, Aga Khan University College of Medicine, Karachi, Pakistan and St Georges Medical School London.

Today, Prof Somers is still in clinical practice at the Royal Perth Hospital.

ninsiima@observer.ug

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