Noorjehay Magid, is a doctor and clinical manager of the DREAM program for fighting HIV in Mozambique. Behind the white coat is a woman of faith with a strong humanitarian streak. She exercises her profession with the idea that “to treat the sick it is not enough to be doctors, you need to have human feelings.” In recognition for her work she has been given two awards; “Woman of the Year” of Italy in 2006 and the “Klaus-Hemmerler” award of Germany this year for her humanitarian work in the area of HIV / AIDS. At the age of ten she decided to become a doctor as it was the dream of her grandfather, a focal point of her life.
Tell us your story, it was your grandfather who influenced you in the choice of your profession, correct?
Yes, when I was ten, my grandfather was admitted to what is now the Central Hospital of Maputo, following a cerebrovascular accident (stroke n.d.t). There he was treated by a doctor called Manuela Santos, and was very impressed. So much so that one day while we were visiting him, he called us all close to tell us that he hoped that one of us grandchildren would become a physician to help patients in need. Moreover, something more had hit my grandfather’s attention and had motivated his admiration: the fact that he was being cared for by a woman, seeing a woman as a doctor.
This struck him?
In the Indian tradition which I grew up in, after a certain age the woman was expected to begin building a family; it is a very rigid tradition. His experience in Mozambique made it clear to my grandfather that women could also have other tasks in society.
Have certain tradition interfered with your professional work?
Some have interfered. I come from a very religious and conservative family; so much so that I only have the diploma of the 4th year of high school and then a medical degree. At the time, Muslim women could study only up to the fourth year and then had to stop to get married. Even though my destiny was this, with the support of my family and my determination firmness, I managed to study. Unlike today, there were not that many Muslim women in school.
Where did you get the strength to go so against the culture?
From my mother. She faught against everything and everyone so that I could study and so that I could become what I am today.
You have won two prizes; “Woman of the Year” of Italy in 2006 and the “Klaus-Hemmerler” prize of Germania this year for your humanitarian work in the area of HIV/AIDS. Does this mean that the wish of your grandfather has been accomplished?
Yes. I did not count on it. If he were still alive I am sure he would be very proud. I woud like to however extend the credit to my colleagues and all the patients of DREAM, all of whom in their own way, are fighting for their life.
Is there still taboo and stigma around HIV/AIDS?
First, let me say that I was the first woman to work with the Community of Sant’Egidio to introduce antiretroviral treatment in the country in 2001. Today the taboo and stigma have been drastically reduced. Before it was really terrible. They would call me secretly and whisper that there was a patient in the department X, in the bed Y with HIV / AIDS who needed assistance. Prior to the introduction of antiretroviral drugs in the national health system I was recording up to 5 deaths per day. When antiretroviral drugs were finally introduced in 2004 things began to change. Today everyone is doing the test and can start treatment. However, it must be remembered first of all that treating an HIV-positive person cannot be reduced only to the administration of drugs, but rather that the patient finds in his doctor a human being who he knows is listening to him.
Five deaths per day? Must have been frustrating …
Without a doubt. I was putting into practice everything I had learned at school, but notwithstanding so many patients were dying.
Doctor, do women continue to be the greatest victims of HIV/AIDS in the country?
Unfortunately yes. But today the statistics are relatively encouring, for example recent data on the vertical transmission of the virus is quite positive. To our satisfaction, last year (2015), in the DREAM Centers of the Community of S. Egidio, not a single child was born HIV-positive, meaning that all of the seropositive pregnant women were able to give Birth to seronegative children, thanks to the treatment administered by DREAM to these women. Today it is inconceivable that a child be born with HIV because the treatment exists and is available.
During their pregnancy, what difficulties did the seropositive women face?
Many times they are afraid of being obligated to tell their partner their condition. Naturally, we tell them that this depends on them. They can speak to their partner as well as not. The most important thing for us is that these women are cogniscent of their health.
Is there any religious ritual that you do every day?
I pray a lot, I dedicate a majority of my remaining time to my work. All of my patients have my cell number; I am available for them 24 horus a day. They know they can call me or send me a message whenever they want. If I am ever out of the country, we speak through Whatsapp.
Are you a woman of faith?
Yes, I have always been, and I work with different religious congregations: with the nuns of the Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Center in Mahotas, I help in Father Bosco’s education on HIV/AIDS, and in the women’s college of Katembe. Twice a year, I go to the House of Joy, a social institute of the Nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
What is one episode that will always remain with you?
In 2006, in the General Hospital of Machava, there was a 17 year-old patient who always came to hervisits with her mother, who was also seropositive. A couple of days before Christmas, the girl came to her visit by herself. She had just lost her mother. The nurses had put her last in line, so that I could dedicate all of the necessary time to her. Once she came into my office I told her to take any one of the dolls that were there. She refused. She then came close to me and told me that the only thing she wanted was to have her mother back. It was completely shocking! All she could do is cry.
You have many patients, doesn’t this take away from the possibility of being with your family?
No. I also have time to be with my family, it is then that I recharge my energy for my work.
Who is Noorjehay Magid? Noorjehay Magid was born in Maputo; she is the oldest of three, with two brothers; she comes from a family of Indian origin and tradition. Dr. Noorjehay is a woman with a sweet and spontaneous smile, which makes her extremely joyful and kind.
She was raised in an extremely conservative family, which has made her an extremely determined woman. Religion has always accompanied her, so much so that she easily and immediately gets invovled in acts of charity when she can. Since 2007 she participates in the annual Prayer for Peace held by the Community of S. Egidio in Europe.
She studied Medicine at the Eduardo Monlane University, where she graudated from in 1998. She began her career as a doctor in the National Health Care System, where she continues to offer her services to this day. At the same time, shehas worked with the Community of S. Egidio since 2001 and is currently responsible for the DREAM Program in Mozambique.