Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto

Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto

Photo courtesy of Francis Omoruto Obituary Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto Ugandan expert in family medicine who helped coordinate Liberia’s Ebola respons...

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Photo courtesy of Francis Omoruto


Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto Ugandan expert in family medicine who helped coordinate Liberia’s Ebola response. She was born in Kumi, Uganda, on Nov 22, 1956, and died from pancreatic cancer in Kampala, Uganda, on May 5, 2016, aged 59 years. When the call came from WHO in mid-2014 asking Ugandan experts for assistance in containing Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto responded. One of Uganda’s leading family medicine practitioners, over the years she had been asked to help coordinate responses in her home country to several haemorrhagic fever outbreaks, as well as flare-ups of cholera. “Whenever they could declare an outbreak, she could come very fast and organise”, said Florence Waiswa, a senior public health nurse at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Waiswa assisted Atai-Omoruto during some of the outbreaks in Uganda and was part of the 14-person team that travelled to Monrovia, the Liberian capital, in July, 2014. Liberia was the hardest hit country in the west African Ebola outbreak, and what they found was a situation unlike anything they had seen in Uganda’s haemorrhagic fever outbreaks. Atai-Omoruto’s main responsibilities were administrative, running treatment units—first at the John F Kennedy Medical Center and then at the Island Clinic, a nutrition centre converted into a 150-bed ward. Moses Massaquoi, Liberia’s national Ebola case manager in the Ministry of Health, said she “was for us a mentor, a true clinician who came to Liberia at the time when everything was not as yet organised”. 2598

Waiswa remembers Atai-Omoruto working late into the night tracking patients’ progress, requisitioning supplies, and planning training for the scores of Liberian health workers who were cycling through the facility, getting on-the-job lessons in caring for patients with Ebola virus disease. Waiswa credited her with keeping the clinic running despite constant shortages of supplies and finances. When a group of Liberian health workers threatened to strike over late payment, “she had to calm them down and work went on well”. Although she gained accolades for her management of Island Clinic, colleagues said Atai-Omoruto entered medicine and specialised in family medicine because she enjoyed getting to know her patients and following them through their treatment. “In her consultation, she always had that expansive conversation”, said Jane Frances Namatovu, who succeeded Atai-Omoruto as the head of the family medicine department at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences. “It was not only about the complaint, but even about the people at home. Asking how they were. I imagine that’s why the patients also kept following her and coming to see her.” Atai-Omoruto received her bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery from the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India, in 1982. She returned to Uganda 2 years later to take up a position as a junior house officer at Mulago National Referral Hospital. From there she moved around the country, taking on various responsibilities before returning to education in 1999 to pursue a masters degree in family medicine and community practice from Makerere University. Upon graduating, Atai-Omoruto was given the twin tasks of working as a medical officer at Mulago and serving as head of Makerere’s Community Health Department—now the Department of Family Medicine, from which she had just graduated. “She always had her hands full”, Namatovu said. Even as she attended to patients, Atai-Omoruto helped overhaul the department’s curriculum, supervise researchers, and lobby for an undergraduate course in family medicine, which was officially introduced 2 years ago. She was also active on an international level, working through the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) to advocate for greater gender equality. Amanda Howe, the incoming President of WONCA, met Atai-Omoruto through their work together on one of the organisation’s advocacy groups, the Working Party on Women and Family Medicine. Howe said Atai-Omoruto saw the working party “as one way to make people more aware of these kinds of problems within family medicine…About inequity within the profession and the ways that gender and equity play out in health and illness.” Before her death, Atai-Omoruto was voted the WONCA Global Five Star Doctor Award winner for 2016 in recognition of her contributions to family medicine. She is survived by her father, three siblings, and her five children.

Andrew Green Vol 387 June 25, 2016