Dr Vhutshilo Netshituni has pioneered efforts to enhance cure rates and provide hope for young cancer patients and their families.
Paediatric oncologist Dr Vhutshilo Netshituni, whose private practice is at Mediclinic Limpopo, is also committed to treating state patients.

“When I qualified as a paediatrician in 2016, I wasn’t aware there were no other black South African paediatric oncologists,” says Dr Vhutshilo Netshituni, whose practice is based at Mediclinic Limpopo. “I just knew I wanted to pursue this field because I fell in love with oncology after attending a workshop as a student at Stellenbosch University. This eventually led me to sub-specialise in paediatric oncology.”

After qualifying, Dr Netshituni moved back to Limpopo, where she was born. “At the time, there weren’t any paediatric oncologists in the province, either in the private or state sectors. I decided then that I wanted to give back,” she says. Dr Netshituni opened her private practice at Mediclinic Limpopo in 2019, but also treats state patients in the area. “If I didn’t help them as well, I would not be able to sleep at night,” she insists.

Cancer in children

As a clinical oncologist, Dr Netshituni treats most of her paediatric oncology patients with chemotherapy at Mediclinic Limpopo. This is the only hospital in the largely rural province with a paediatric oncology department. Another consultant, a registrar and medical officers are on hand to help her in the busy 30-bed paediatric oncology unit. Cases that require radiation or other treatment are referred to radiation oncologists in the area.

Dr Netshituni is also involved in the Childhood Cancer Organisation (Choc), a national body that aims to improve the survival and cure rates of paediatric cancers. Among the multiple Choc studies to which she contributes is an ongoing study on Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Most of the patients referred to Dr Netshituni’s growing practice in the past three years were diagnosed in the early stages of cancer, which are more treatable, with better prognosis and higher survival rates. “The majority of the children we have treated have done very well,” she says.

Dr Netshituni treats a young cancer patient.

A particularly memorable case involved a three-year-old girl from rural Sekhukhune who couldn’t even walk when she came for treatment. What had initially been diagnosed by other doctors as arthritis was found to be leukaemia, following a bone marrow test conducted by Dr Netshituni.

“I felt extremely happy witnessing a child, initially unable to walk, being able to do so after chemotherapy treatment. She is back at school now and only comes to us for check-ups.”

– Dr Vhutshile Netshituni

Paediatric oncology journey

Born in the rural town of Thohoyandou in Limpopo, Dr Netshituni and her three siblings lost their father when they were young. Her mother, Sophie, saved up to be able to afford her daughter’s R4 000 medical school registration fee.

“Luckily, the Limpopo Department of Health’s Bursary Office then began helping low-income students,” Dr Netshituni recalls. “I’d already bought all my study books second hand, so I was able to use some of that bursary money to eat at the cafeteria for an entire year! I used the rest of the money to pay off my first-year debt.”

Dr Netshituni’s career path continues to be successful and rewarding, earning her respect and support among her peers and colleagues. “I won’t say it has been an easy journey, but I have two rules for myself,” she says: “Wherever the world throws me, I will run there’ and ‘Whatever I start, I must finish’. Every time I think about being a paediatric oncologist, I feel fulfilled. This is a journey I must complete.”

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