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How Salamat A. Aliu beat the odds to become Nigeria’s first indigenous trained female neurosurgeon

There are not many female neurosurgeons in Africa as the field is still heavily dominated by men. Dr. Salamat Ahuoiza Aliu did not let the lack of representation prevent her from pursuing her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon and now she is the first female neurosurgeon certified in West Africa and the first indigenous trained female neurosurgeon in Nigeria.

Aliu was born in Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria, where she received her medical training at the University of Ilorin. After medical school, she took an interest in neurosurgeon and decided to specialize in neurosurgery at Usman Danfodiyo University under the mentorship of Professor BB Shehu. She knew very well that the training would be intensive but that did not scare her in the least bit.

She first conceived the idea when she visited the Neurosurgery Centre in Nigeria’s Sokoto State. Despite the foreseeable obstacles and challenges especially being a woman venturing into the field, Aliu still persevered and successfully completed her course.

The journey to becoming a certified medically trained neurosurgeon can take up to 15 years of schooling from the first degree right through to the end of the fellowship. To appreciate this great feat by Aliu, one must know that complex neurosurgery could take up to 15 hours in the theatre.

This specialization involves more than brain surgeries. Neurosurgeons perform spine surgeries and specialize in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders pertaining to the central and peripheral nervous system which includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumors, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.

Aliu, who is in her 40s, co-authored three publications including the well-read publication, “Knotting of a nasogastric feeding tube in a child with head injury” with seven other physicians in 2014. They discussed the complications that could arise from placing a nasogastric tube in patients that are unable to feed themselves.

She was listed as part of the top 100 persons of the year by Arewa socio-political group in 2016 for her remarkable work in neurosurgery and advocacy for more women in the neurological field.

Aliu is married with two children and is currently working at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital as a neurosurgeon. She previously worked at the National Hospital, Abuja.

Aliu and her sisters are family goals and evidence that girl-child education is a must. All five of them are medical doctors including Aliu the neurosurgeon; Halima Aliu, a plastic surgeon; Raliat Aliu, an obstetrician and gynecologist; Khadijah Aliu, a family physician, and Medinah Aliu, a public health physician.

Aliu is an inspiration to many young girls and does not want to be the only woman medically certified neurosurgeon in Nigeria and West Africa. She thus continues to mentor other women with hopes of getting more women to consider specializing in neurosurgery.

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