Jens Mielke

1960 - 2008

Jens Mielke’s life ended suddenly and tragically on 12 March 2008. His life had been fruitful and held great promise for years to come, promises, however, which were abruptly dissipated in a plane crash which ended his life at the age of 47.

His nationality was German, but at the age of 12 he arrived in Zimbabwe where he became a permanent resident.  His undergraduate medical training was accomplished in 1984 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Back in Zimbabwe he became registrar in internal medicine at the Harare and Parirenyatwa Hospitals. From 1991-1993 he went for specialist training in internal medicine and neurology to the United Kingdom and acquired the MRCP in 1992. Back in Harare in 1993 he became lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Medical School and specialist physician at the Parirenyatwa hospital. In 2000 followed his appointment as senior lecturer and from 2002 till his untimely death he was associate professor. His interest in bio-ethics (he was, amongst other functions, coordinator of the Joint Research Ethics Committee, Parirenyatwa Hospital and College of Health Sciences) he formalized in 2002 with an MHSc in bio-ethics at the University of Toronto, Canada. As last of his academic palmares he was elected FRCP (London) in 2007.

His first paper on epilepsy, published in 1997, reflected his interest beyond the direct effect of disease itself on a person, and dealt with knowledge and attitudes of teachers towards epilepsy in Zimbabwe. When the ILAE/IBE/WHO Global Campaign Against Epilepsy called for demonstration projects how best to organize epilepsy care in rural areas of Africa, two projects were selected, one in francophone Senegal and the other in anglophone Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding rapidly changing political and economical conditions in Zimbabwe, Mielke persisted and in 2005 he was able to have a final report presented at the Congress of the World Federation of Neurological Societies  in Sydney and at the 26th International Epilepsy Congress in Paris.

The scientific community and his patients will miss him, but his untimely death bereaves his wife Sheila, his 16 year old daughter and his sons of 18 and 13 years, of his support at a time and an age where normally the loss of a husband and father takes a heavy toll, but the more so given the present conditions in Zimbabwe. 

Jens Mielke dies in Plane Crash
Tragic loss of one of Zimbabwe’s few Neurologists

Jens Mielke

On 20 March we learned the sad news that Dr Jens Mielke had died tragically the day before when his light aircraft crashed on take-off from Harare Airport in Zimbabwe. Gretchen Birbeck, a close colleague of Dr Mielke wrote: “Dr Mielke served on the Faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for many, many years and was perhaps the last bastion of academic neurology in the country. He also travelled monthly to Botswana to provide services to yet another African country that literally has no neurologists. Many collaborated with Jens on projects related to addressing the needs of people with neurological conditions in resource poor settings. He made himself and his expertise available in any way he thought would be helpful”.

The first time I met Dr Mielke was at the Regional Conference ‘Epilepsy: a Health care priority in Africa’ held in Senegal in May 2000. He participated enthusiastically in writing the African Declaration on Epilepsy 2000. But we were to meet many times after that and worked closely together on a Demonstration Project in Zimbabwe, a pilot project in Africa under the ILAE/IBE/WHO Global Campaign Against Epilepsy.

His ability to pursue neurology in Zimbabwe during the most difficult circumstances was admirable; an inspiration to many others. He was a remarkable man, conducting academic work under difficult conditions, never giving up hope that neurological services and teaching might be improved in the region. Jens Mielke will be missed by friends and colleagues all over the world. But especially by the people with epilepsy in Africa who he served so well.

Hanneke de Boer
Former Co-Chair
ILAE/IBE/WHO Global Campaign
Against Epilepsy

from International Epilepsy News 2008