Dr. Emmanuel Taban

Daily Maverick’s ‘Africa Person of the Year’ 2021 “because he has achieved so much and travelled such a great distance – literally and figuratively – to get there”. He was also named as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans’ in 2020 by New African Magazine.

When a nurse once told a young Emmanuel Taban that he’d grow up to become a doctor, the thought was “absurd”, he says. “The possibility of being able to survive beyond childhood was difficult to imagine – let alone being able to go to school.” Today, Dr. Taban holds three medical degrees and now offers expert pulmonology* care at Mediclinic Highveld, a rare and valuable service in rural Mpumalanga, as well as at Mediclinic Midstream.

But apart from his ground-breaking medical achievements, his personal story of getting from war-torn South Sudan to where he is today, will leave you speechless – and overwhelmed.

Dr. Taban left his home country of the Republic of South Sudan at the age of 16 after his father was killed in the South Sudanese Civil War. He completed his secondary education with the help of charity groups, including Mercy House, and went on to study medicine at Medunsa University.

“The nurse saw something in me that was beyond my poverty and surroundings,” he says. “She saw potential beyond my very difficult childhood – but I used every opportunity I could to educate myself.”

Having qualified as a physician, Dr. Taban opted to specialise in internal medicine during his period of community service. It was during this time, when he was based in Secunda, Mpumalanga, that he began to see the need for a local pulmonology specialist.

Pulmonologists usually see patients with advanced cases of asthma or tuberculosis, and Dr. Taban says the small mining towns of Mpumalanga are home to a unique mix of risk factors.

“We see a lot of patients with lung disease, which is exacerbated by the effects of coal mining and air pollution. Getting a pulmonologist appointment at the time was extremely difficult – and very expensive. The vast majority of the population couldn’t afford to get the treatment they required as they were of low socioeconomic status, had no transport as well as a lack of adequate medical insurance.” Given his personal history as a war refugee, Dr. Taban says this was devastating to witness and was inspired to study further, to offer his patients a higher standard of care.

Dr. Taban credits Mediclinic Highveld and Mediclinic Midstream for their assistance as part of their extensive practice development programme. “They were extremely supportive both financially and emotionally. When I decided to sub-specialise in pulmonology, they were not only supportive but they also offered me a full bursary – and helped set up my practice at Mediclinic Midstream as well.”

But he hasn’t stopped there. He also provides pro bono primary healthcare services to patients in a local Secunda retirement home and assists with giving pulmonary function tests at a nearby provincial Hospital. “I have experienced how one person can make a huge difference in the direction one’s life could take. I see my practice as an opportunity to make a difference in my community.”

Providing for his patients gives Dr. Taban a deep sense of personal fulfillment. “Being a doctor was always regarded as being one of the smartest people and my desire to achieve this pulled me in that direction. I love this job and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It brings out my personality and allows me to be everything that I want.”

*Pulmonology is a medical field that addresses diseases involving the respiratory tract.