Paediatrics Specialist Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro at Age 65

Raziya Bobat, Associate Professor in Paediatrics and Head of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, climbed Africa’s highest mountain this year at the age of 65.

She was accompanied by her husband, Professor Umesh Lalloo, their daughter, Natasha, and four friends.

Bobat, who is set to retire from UKZN at the end of this year after 40 years of service, was inspired last year by a close family friend with a respiratory condition, to take up this daunting challenge. ‘Apart from my daughter, the entire team consisted of adults that are over the age of 57.’ Mt Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, East Africa, stands 5 895 metres tall, and is the highest peak in Africa, and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

Prior to this amazing accomplishment, Bobat had not set foot in a gym. After training for a year with a personal trainer, and much encouragement from their daughter, Seema, who did the climb last year, the group was ready to embark on the seven-day journey along the Machame route. ‘There are risks along the way, but the biggest risk of this kind of climb is altitude sickness (anything above 5,500 metres is considered “extremely high altitude”), and as a medical specialist I know that you cannot predict altitude sickness,’ said Bobat.

‘On the fifth day, we started hiking at around 11:30pm and we reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, at 8:30am. I cannot express the emotions we went through. The joy, the elation, the sense of achievement. It was difficult, a really hard climb, but you get to understand and appreciate your human strength and capabilities,’ remarked Bobat. ‘Along the way, you need to watch the route carefully as it can be narrow, steep, rocky and sometimes icy.’

Bobat thanked the amazing guides that accompanied them. ‘The guides and staff were phenomenal. We would never have been successful without their assistance.’ She is now inspired to attempt to reach the Everest Base camp next year and possibly at some stage attempt Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains in Peru.

As a fitting end to her amazing journey this year, she edited a book on HIV Infection in Children and Adolescents which will be launched in February 2020. The book is her contribution to medical education and to the care of HIV infected children in sub-Saharan Africa. All the contributors are her South African colleagues.

Bobat’s advice to all, especially women over the age of 50, is, ‘Keep fit and active, as age doesn’t matter. It is the enduring determination of the human spirit that is always underestimated.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied