The following is Professor Ambrose Eric Onyango Wasunna memorial lecture delivered by Prof.Peter A.Odhiambo at the 38th annual and scientific conference of the Kenya Medical Association (KMA);
"This is not the first time I am having to remember this distinguished surgeon from Kenya. In the surgical fraternity in Kenya, he is recognised as a giant in his own stride - a pioneer surgeon among first generation surgeons in Kenya and definitely one of the very few to be remembered in surgical academia. He was a teacher by birth and training, an astute clinician who practiced by the full ethics of the game, an outstanding researcher, a cool and collected manager and indeed a professional par excellence. His surgical and professional foot-steps will remain for a very long time in the Department of Surgery of the University of Nairobi (UoN) and in overall medical fraternity in Kenya and the entire Eastern and Central Africa region.
I consider it a great honour to have been asked by the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) to take lead in remembering Professor Ambrose Eric Onyango Wasunna at its 38th annual and scientific conference.
Professor AEO Wasunna was born on 4th August, 1938 to a typically African family in Nyahera, Kisumu where he spent his early childhood education. He then proceeded to the nearby Maseno High School, literally on his way to Makerere University scooping honour after honour as he climbed the academic ladder.
In his bag of honours were the following;
- Medical Ethics prize - 1965
- Best finalist prize - 1965
Part 1 FRCS Hallet prize of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
His next feats were the 'Fellowships' of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which he cleared almost simultaneously, writing and passing one with the right hand and the other with the left hand, so to speak, in 1969 four years after completing the MB ChB degree course at Makerere University in 1965.
After the 'Fellowships', he returned in time to take over the Chairmanship of the University of Nairobi's Department of Surgery in the Faculty (now school) of Medicine.
He was the first Kenyan African Chairman of the Department of Surgery. He Africanized himself first though excellencies; thereafter not only did he teach the first batch of Master of Medicine in General Surgery (MMed. Surg) post-graduate students, but he also effectively proceeded to fully Africanize the department by constant talent hunt and due recruitment. He established a World Health Organization (WHO) research centre in the Department of Surgery. It was there that he undertook his own research in gastroenterology. From Chairmanship of the department, he went ahead and became UoN's fifth Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and left foot-prints all over the place.
He proceeded to international service as 'Health Advisor' at the WHO in Geneva for nearly two decades and rose to the position of 'Division Director' in 1998. While at the WHO, he authored or participated in the authorship of the following books and monographs:
- General Surgery in the District Hospital
- Technology for Health in the Future
- Surgical Man-power in Africa
- Advances in Medicine and Future Trends
Beyond these heights of achievement, he undertook editorial and consultancy advice for the WHO in addition to giving many guest lectures around the world.
As fate would have it, he returned to Kenya as a retiree, but not to retire. He rejoined the Department of Surgery and taught yet again until the cruel hand of death plucked him from us at the prime age of 71. He did so much and yet in biblical terms, he borrowed only one year from God! Notably he embraced Christianity to the very core of his life. He graduated in BA (Theology) in 1993 and was a church leader at the time of his passing on in 2008.
I know you know the late Ambrose as a great medic and that is why you have chosen to remember him today. We pry to God almighty to rest his soul in eternal peace.
As we remember this great Kenyan health professional, two things stand out, which I would like to share with you on this very day, namely: Who or what is a "professional"
I give you my own view; you may call it definition of professional. A professional is FIVE-DIMENSIONAL INDIVIDUAL, a walking 'five-star individual, with the following attributes:
- Sufficiently loaded with knowledge and skills;
- Endowed with intellectual ability and prowess;
- One with integrity and impeccable ethics;
- Environmental awareness and consciousness, and
- Time wise.
In other words; One who has gone through education and education has gone through him or her!
Can we fit the late Ambrose Wasunna here? Could he fit into this grid? The answers are a big "YES", almost like gloves onto a surgeon's fingers. He did all that, BUT died without any national honour being bestowed upon him by the Kenyan powers that be.
He died without our entire national system noticing him and his nation building abilities and activities! Seventy one brilliant years! Seventy one unmarked years! And we repeat the same story for many other professionals. Kenya's pioneer kidney transplant surgeon, the late professor Nelson Wanyama Awori got his national honour posthumously! We could count more - Professor Nimrod Odundo Bwibo, the late Professor Joseph Maina Mungai to name only two.
Surely, something is not quite right! The equation seems to be that one, a 'pucca' professional included, must virtually necessarily rub shoulders with politicians to be noticed. Those who toil to build the nation seemlessly took over from the expatriates, but there appears to be so much political illiteracy that professionals continue sweating it out building this country, driven by their professional calling and job satisfaction rather than any national appreciation! When professionals in public service ask for more pay, it is like they commit a sin. When politicians vie for more money, it is the rule of the game: they give it to themselves without butting an eyelid.
I raise this issue because we are remembering a top Kenyan professional, because it is anomalous, and because it is high time that you as medical professionals, had better devise your own roll of honour to ensure that the history of medicine in this country is not trashed, directly or indirectly. After-all, being feted by a regime that raises eye-brows left and right cannot be the ultimate aspiration of a righteous professional. I sincerely hope and pray that we shall one day have a regime or regimes that will be truly Kenya-friendly. It is my further hope that by then, things would happen without professionals crying foul! Today, I submit and recommend KMA should evolve a system of medellation to honour the late Professor Ambrose Eric Onyango Wasunna and others like him in our various specialities.
May his soul rest in eternal peace!
THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!