Interview with Dr. Stella Mongella from Tanzania

May 7, 2019

We spoke with Dr. Stella Mongella who is in Israel with Save a Child's Heart for a 2 year training program advancing her skills as a pediatrician so she can help save lives in her home country of Tanzania.

1. Where and when were you born?

I was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1982.


2. What was your family life like?

I am the first child in a family of three girls. Both of my parents were civil servants, my father was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my mother was in the Ministry of Education. Having started off as teachers, they worked very hard to advance themselves and instilled in me a strong work ethic. I grew up in Dar es Salaam and that is where I completed my primary and secondary school education. We were, and still are, a very close knit family.  


3. Why did you want to become a doctor?

I have always had a keen interest for the science since primary school, so it was the pursuit of the sciences throughout secondary school that eventually led me into medicine.


4. What experiences motivated you to pursue medicine?

No experiences, simply a love for the sciences and a desire to help people with the knowledge that I have gained.


5. What medical training have you received and where?

Ten years ago, I completed medical school what is now the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (Bugando) in Mwanza, Tanzania. I continued on at the same institution for postgraduate training in Pediatrics and Child Health, and have been a pediatrician for the past six years.


6. Why did you choose your specialty?

Children are very unique in how genuine they are in sickness and health. A sick child can be seen in how subdued they may become, but once that child is well, they're back to being active again. It's very rewarding to be able to help children be healthy and develop as they should.


7. How did you find out about the medical training program in Israel?

When I was in medical school, the head of Pediatrics at my university was a German neonatologist/cardiologist who had trained in Israel. He invited Save A Child's Heart to meet a young doctor, as a potential candidate to study Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. The young doctor impressed Save A Child's Heart and came to Israel to pursue a five year program that made him Tanzania's first pediatric cardiac surgeon. That pediatric cardiac surgeon is my husband, Godwin Godfrey Sharau.


8. Why did you decide to pursue the program with Save a Child's Heart?

It is a unique training program in the fact that Israel is a medically advanced country and working at Wolfson Medical Center allows a supervised, complete hands on experience unlike any other program.


9. What is the status of pediatric cardiac care and/or your specialty in your home country?

Tanzania has about 50 million people, and the birth rate is about 2 million per year. The incidence of children being born with heart diseases at 0.8%, so about 16,000 babies across Tanzania are born with heart conditions per year. All these children and more rely on the sole cardiac hospital in Tanzania, the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI) in Dar es Salaam, for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Tanzania has a total of five pediatric cardiologists, one pediatric cardiac surgeon and one pediatric cardiac intensivist. The need for advancing pediatric cardiac care is huge.


10. What motivates you to train and return to your home country to practice medicine?

The need. There is so much work to be done in the provision of care to children with cardiac conditions but also in training and mentoring other doctors to better recognize and manage these conditions as well.


11. How long is your training in Israel for? Two years


12. What experiences have you had so far with Save a Child's Heart have stuck out to you - can you share a story?

Every Tuesday, there is the Palestinian children's clinic that sees children with heart conditions from Palestine. The week after the most recent missile was directed at Israel, there was a concern that the border wouldn't be open to allow the children over for their clinic appointments. Luckily, the border opened and the children were attended to as usual. It was amazing to see that even in the midst of political unrest, children were still being given the care they needed.


13 What do you enjoy most about being Israel?

The learning atmosphere is very open, allowing for one to gain the necessary clinical skills and knowledge.


14. What do you miss most about your home life/country?

My husband, Godwin, and our three young children.


15. What is your hope for the future?

I hope that Tanzanian children can get the timely cardiac care they need to be able to return the smiles to their faces and to their parents' faces.