Prof. Esther D. Mwaikambo
Dr. Mwaikambo, a medical doctor, is one of the leading senior pediatricians and professor of pediatrics and child health in Tanzania. She lead the breast cancer country program through the medical women association of Tanzania which she founded in 1987. She was Vice Chancellor of Hubert Kairuki Memorial University. She is leading the national Polio eradication program. Throughout her career she has championed the role of women in science. As an educator, scientist, and engaged citizen, she is considered a leading public figure in East Africa. Her contributions to the American Academy would include her extensive knowledge and networking of academic institutions and science organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. She is a founding and sole female member of the Tanzania Academy of Sciences (TAAS). In 2012, she was elected President of TAAS.
Esther Daniel Mariki, as her maiden name went, was born on 12 December 1943 in Mwika, in the Moshi-rural district of Kilimanjaro region. She attended school at Lyakirimu Primary School in Mwika (in 1948-1951), Ashira Girls Middle School in Marangu (1952-1955) and Tabora Girls’ Secondary School in Tabora (1956-1959). At independence and in the years that followed, a number of achieving young Tanganyikans?male and female?were offered higher education scholarships by a number of countries overseas through the newly independent government. Esther was among those young girls, who went to Russia in 1962, studying the Russian language plus the science subjects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology as well as Mathematics for two years before admission, in 1965, into a five-year doctor of medicine degree programme.
There is an interesting story about her scholarship and her academic pursuit in Russia. Esther was originally granted a scholarship to study journalism in Russia. She was admitted to the State University of Moscow for a one-year pre-university programme during which time the students had a comprehensive study of the Russian language in order to gain language competence for entry into all other study programmes. It was during this time that Esther experienced a somewhat a mind-boggling moment of reflection and decision-making. She observed that more than 80% of the doctors in the Soviet Union were women, something that was the reverse at home in Africa and Tanzania. With this observation, coupled with the curiosity and desire to find out “what caused the death of her mother”, Esther
decided to request the university administration at Moscow to allow her to study medicine instead of journalism. As it were, she was not qualified for admission at the medical school because of reasons including the fact that she had not taken science subjects in her Cambridge school certificate. However, the University administration agreed to allow her to change the faculty on the condition that she would go back to a secondary school programme for two years in order to study science subjects. If she should pass well, then she would join the medical training programme. This is exactly what she did! She happily agreed to the requirement and was admitted to a Russian secondary school in Moscow where she studied high school science subjects for two solid years. She passed the necessary examinations and in 1965, she was admitted to the Friendship University, Moscow. There is a great moral in this. It was a clear demonstration of determination and prudence engineered, as it would seem, not only by her own search for a cause of the death of her mother but also by a motivation that she, too, as a woman could succeed as women in Russia did to the extent of outnumbering men in the medical profession. She also sensed that if this was achieved in a foreign land, it could also be achieved in Africa if girls were encouraged to pursue what seemed at that time no-entry professions. Why couldn’t [indeed shouldn’t] this situation be reversed in a young and aspiring post-independence nation, she asked herself. She decided that it should begin with herself. If there is any lesson to learn from this kind of drive?and in a foreign country environment?then it is this one for the young and upcoming girl youths in our country: a brilliant example and a perfect role model!
Prof. Mwaikambo has since her return from overseas training served as Medical Officer III, II and later I at the Muhimbili Medical Centre from 1971 to 1976, thereafter teaching paediatrics and child health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Dar es Salaam from 1977 to 1997 and, later, at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University (HKMU) from 1998 to date. At the latter, she has subsequently served as the Vice-Chancellor from 1999 to 2006. From 2002 to 2006, she served also as Chairperson of the National Examination Council (NECTA). Among many other professional roles she has played for the medical profession is as the founder and first president of the Medical Women Association of Tanzania (MEWATA) from 1987-2005. Prof. Mwaikambo, who was recipient of the ‘Harvard Distinguished African Lecturer Award’ in 2009, is still working with HKMU, guiding or else assisting in efforts of academic strengthening and professionalization of the University system there. The young scholars and academic staff alike are continuing to benefit from her contribution and her rich experience.