Journey from war-torn hell to international recognition as doctor on Covid front lines

11 March 2021 - 13:42
By never giving up, Emmanuel Taban rose above extreme poverty, racism and xenophobia to become a South African legend.
By never giving up, Emmanuel Taban rose above extreme poverty, racism and xenophobia to become a South African legend.
Image: Supplied

In 1994, 16-year-old Emmanuel Taban walked out of war-torn Sudan with nothing and nowhere to go after he had been tortured at the hands of government forces, who falsely accused him of spying for the rebels. When he finally managed to escape, he literally took a wrong turn and, instead of being reunited with his family, ended up in neighbouring Eritrea as a refugee.

Over the months that followed, young Emmanuel went on a harrowing journey, often spending weeks on the streets and facing many dangers. Relying on the generosity of strangers, he made the long journey south to SA, via Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, travelling mostly by bus and on foot.

When he reached Johannesburg, 18 months after fleeing Sudan, he was determined to resume his education. He managed to complete his schooling with the help of Catholic missionaries and entered medical school, qualifying as a doctor, and eventually specialising in pulmonology.

Taban's skill and dedication as a physician, and his stubborn refusal to be discouraged by setbacks, led to an important discovery in the treatment of hypoxaemic Covid-19 patients. By never giving up, this son of Sudan has risen above extreme poverty, racism and xenophobia to become a South African legend. This is his story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

When the 17-year-old Emmanuel Taban arrived in Johannesburg from South Sudan with nothing, he had only five years of education behind him.

Today this former Medunsa student is a highly qualified pulmonologist, with a European Diploma in adult respiratory medicine. During 2020, he was at the forefront of the treatment of Covid-19 patients in ICU.

Taban was the first pulmonologist in the world to perform a therapeutic bronchoscopy on a hypoxaemic Covid-19 patient, discovering that some deaths from Covid-19 pneumonia are due to fibrinous mucus plugs.