By Sifelani Tsiko
The death of Zimbabwe’s renowned cardiologist and specialist physician Prof James Gita Hakim on January 26, has robbed the country of a tireless advocate for his patients and their families and a man who was highly respected in the medical fraternity.
Prof Hakim, who had made Zimbabwe his home, died at the age of 67, in the capital, Harare this week.
He cared deeply about the health and well-being of the entire people in the country, despite having been born in South Sudan.
The medical fraternity is in deep mourning following the death of Prof Hakim and a number of eminent health specialists in the past few weeks, as the country faces a harsher and new second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and various online platforms, health experts, patients and people from all walks of life who knew Prof Hakim paid moving tributes to this heart specialist who was a talented, dedicated and much loved colleague of the medical fraternity.
“We cherish his memories, his infectious smile and enthusiasm to help heart patients in the country,” said a Harare woman who survives with a heart condition.
“I’m so grateful for his support and care. I owe the gift of my life to him and God. He supported me profoundly when I had lost all hope to survive. Prof Hakim will remain alive in my heart forever.”
Said a young medical researcher: “Prof Hakim influenced many of us with his deep integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, compassion and wisdom. He truly touched the lives of many health specialists and we are truly indebted to his service and dedication.”
The National Physicians Association of Zimbabwe (NAPAZ), where he was affiliated for several years said: “His untimely death has robbed us of a pillar of strength and wisdom. He touched so many lives and despite his experience, global recognition as an academic and researcher he remained very humble and availed himself for any task in furtherance of the health agenda.
“He will be remembered for his dedication to duty, academic excellence and professional integrity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in this difficult time.”
Mr Christopher Samkange, a veteran surgeon and urologist described Prof Hakim’s death as a huge blow to the country.
“The is a sad loss of a great man,” he said. “I’m shattered. We have lost an exceptional physician. He was an exceptional medical doctor, fantastic diagnostician who cared deeply for his patients and never hesitating to ask if we could not do better.
“He was a committed teacher, never thinking that one could do too much for the students. A mentor whose commitment to the development of the trainees will take some passing. He was a natural researcher — unique in that he wanted every colleague to reach their full potential.
“He will be remembered as a giant, so humble, so towering and yet so down to earth and shattering relevant. He has left a void that will be so difficult to fill. Our heartfelt gratitude to his family for sharing him with us. We pray that they are comforted in this very arduous time.”
Another cardiologist and friend of Prof Hakim who declined to be named said: “This is a profound loss for so many of us including the patients he so dearly loved. First and foremost, I send our prayers and deepest sympathy to his family. For those of us who had the privilege of knowing him well, he will long be remembered for his expertise, his drive and his passion.
“He is a true hero for many heart patients and thousands of medical professionals he mentored. Dr Hakim shared his talents with others, mentoring other physicians and participating actively in many research programmes at local, regional and international levels.”
Dr Tapuwa Bwakura, president of the National Physicians Association of Zimbabwe, said the death of Dr Hakim was a sad loss of a well known and well respected medical specialist and researcher who left a huge mark globally.
Prof Hakim made many significant contributions to the field of cardiology over his long career and was at the forefront of early work on coronary interventions and many significant research studies in Zimbabwe.
He was deeply committed to the training and development of junior doctors and known for his dedication to his field and his patients.
He made a huge difference to many lives.
NPAZ described Prof Hakim as an accomplished academic, physician and researcher with strong national, regional and international credentials.
He joined the University of Zimbabwe in 1992 as a lecturer and rose through the ranks to the position of professor of medicine and was a former chairman of the Department of Medicine.
At the time of his death, he was the professorial chair of the department of medicine, which is the highest academic achievement at the UZ.
Prof Hakim was born on May 14, 1954 in South Sudan and had become a naturalised Zimbabwean.
He qualified as a medical doctor at Makerere University, Uganda and pursued post-graduate specialist studies in Kenya, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and South Africa.
“He also played a critical role in regional training of doctors. He served as external examiner at medical schools in several countries in the region. He was a member of faculty of the East Central and Southern Africa College of Physicians (ECSACOP), as well as a member of its quality assurance organ, The Academy of Educators,” the association of physicians said.
Prof Hakim was involved in seminal research in HIV, tuberculosis, cardiology and several other national priority disease areas.
Some of his ground-breaking research helped shape treatment guidelines, especially in HIV as well as the introduction of the insertion of heart devices at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
He was also instrumental in the setting up of the Diagnostic Heart Centre in Harare.
Prof Hakim trained numerous researchers at both Masters and PHD levels at the University of Zimbabwe as the country struggled to improve the quality of medical training, postgraduate activity and research capacity at the University of Zimbabwe to reduce the impact of brain drain.
He delivered keynote addresses and contributed immensely at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna and numerous other global health institutions and conferences.
He chaired the scientific committee of the highly successful ICASA Conference that was held in Zimbabwe in 2015.
For several decades, Prof Hakim was instrumental in attracting several conferences to Zimbabwe, including the HIV INTEREST Conference, the Medical Education Partnership Conference and the International AIDS Society Educational Conference.
Prof Hakim was a prolific researcher and published more than 200 articles in refereed journals and books.
He received numerous awards for his academic work including the Zimbabwe Medical Association Award (ZIMA), an honorary Doctor of Science from University College London, the Ward Cates Spirit Award from the NIH HIV Prevention Trials Network and a Merit award from the Society of AIDS in Africa.
On January 27, the BBC ran a report in honour of the quiet and silent engine of Zimbabwe’s healthcare development.
Zimbabwe will sorely miss this hugely valued medical specialist who worked tirelessly to support heart patients and the training of junior doctors.
“Prof Hakim was hugely committed to his work,” said a physician and consultant at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. “He stood out for his tireless patience with trainee doctors, for his professionalism and for his characteristic humility. He was a calm and reliable presence in what is often a busy working environment and I know many colleagues valued the qualities he brought to the role.”
Prof Hakim is survived by his wife Phoebe and four sons, Eric, Neil, Frank and Colin. The Herald.