Dr Sabrina Kitaka, at the heart of treating Uganda’s children
Dr Sabrina Bakeera Kitaka is one of the most sought-after paediatricians in Uganda. The 46-year-old is a wife, mother, senior lecturer, motivational speaker and adolescent health specialist with particular interest in children and adolescents with HIV.
Dr Kitaka puts a child as the center of her work and thoughts. Her goal has always been to work beyond the call of duty and although she had thought she would retire at 40, she is set on continuing to serve people because this is her call.
Born to Teddy Bakeera, a retired nurse and the late Paul Samuel Ssemuli Bakeera, a mining engineer in Kilembe town, Dr Kitaka is a paediatrician specialising in infectious diseases afflicting youth. Growing up, Dr Kitaka aspired to be many things.
“My mother is a retired nurse while my father was a mining engineer. Growing up, I was influenced by many people including my aunt’s friend who was an air hostess. At one point I wanted to be an air hostess. I also aspired to be a news anchor and a high court judge. But along the way, I leaned more towards medicine following in my mother and sister’s footsteps,” she explains.
Dr Kitaka, a lecturer at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences joined medical school in 1990 and completed her degree in 1995.
Asked why she chose paediatrics over other specialities; Kitaka says the scourge of HIV aids in the mid-90s made it hard for her to rotate on the HIV ward as an undergraduate student but found the paediatric ward more inspiring.
“After a long day, I went to present my day’s report to the professor. Because we were meeting at the paediatric ward, I found they had lined up nine dead babies. All had died of measles. I broke down and started crying and on this day I vowed to be part of the team that helps children survive. And I had to work hard. Paediatrics is tough and you need to excel. Undertaking my internship at Nsambya Hospital made me think more and more of doing paediatrics because I had a very good consultant doctor who loved her job and she was so inspirational. She would always be at the ward at 7:30 in the morning, taking care of children,” she shares.
Dr Kitaka states that paediatricians are doctors who take care of children from conception until they are 19 years of age.
“A neonatologist takes care of babies aged 0 to 2months. A generalist takes care of those 2 months to 10 years while an adolescent health specialist continues from 10 to 19 years,” she explains.
She further notes that the most exciting thing about being a doctor is seeing people recover when she treats them. “I also like being a doctor because I get a chance to teach others what I have learnt along the way. Being a doctor is honourable. Serving above self.”
She, however, says losing her patients from preventable causes is what she hates about being a doctor.
“You expect that after treatment, a child will survive. Every child deserves to grow up and realise their full potential so when their lives are cut short prematurely, it is painful,” she says.
Kitaka is married to Andrew Kitaka, an engineer with Kampala Capital City Authority and together, they have five children.
“I met my husband as a second-year medical student. Then, I was still juggling between my studies at Makerere University and internship at Mulago Hospital. We have become accustomed to each other’s busy schedules. He is my greatest support system and I would not be where I am without him.”
In 2002, Kitaka received a Masters of Medicine degree in Paediatrics and Child Health, also from Makerere. She followed that with a Fellowship in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at the Infectious Diseases Institute at Mulago and she pursued a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in paediatric HIV/AIDS, at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, a course she completed in 2020. The University of Antwerp’s research into infectious diseases is ranked amongst the best in the world.