hildren display remarkable resilience — a virtue that Dr Anita Zaidi picked up while working with them. Humbled by the little ones
who smile even in the face of death, she has been engaged in a battle against infant mortality ever since she returned to Pakistan with her husband, neurologist and writer Saad Shafqat, from the US. And proudly counts her rewards in the smiles she leaves behind on her young patient’s faces.
A one-month-old child being treated for pneumonia.
Dr Anita Zaidi beats entries like Doctors Without Borders for a $1 million prize that will save countless young lives BY ISHRAT ANSARI PHOTOS BY ATHAR KHAN DESIGN BY ASIF ALI
32 JANUARY 19-25 2014
“I wanted to be a plastic surgeon, but when I entered medical college and began pediatric rotations, I felt it gave me so much happiness to see children on the mend. I [then] decided to become a pediatrician following [in] the footsteps of my mother,” she tells The Express Tribune. Today Zaidi is among the first batch of AKU’s medical college alumni. “My father encouraged me to [take] admission at the AKU at the time when the building was under construction as he worked near the campus and could see the magnificent architecture [which he] associated with [institutional quality],” she recalls. This was perhaps the most decisive moment in steering her career towards child health. As a medical student at AKU she developed an interest in community health with all students obligated to dedicate 20% of their time to aiding communities and suggesting plausible solutions to health concerns faced by many. It was as a crucial component of their degree requirements, and as a result Zaidi had the opportunity to work in Orangi Town, Grax colony and Essa Nagri. After graduating, she even worked in Gilgit and Chitral for a year in 1989. “That was the year I learnt the most about Pakistan and the problems children living in impoverished environments [face].” Upon her return from a decade-long stay in the US she joined the Aga Khan University (AKU) in 2002 and eight
years later became the head of the pediatric department in 2010. “I opted to work for the AKU because it offered [me] the freedom to pursue a research career dedicated to child health improvement in Pakistan.” Settling into her new role, Zaidi delved right into research which took her across Pakistan in search for communities in dire need of health assistance. She travelled to Karachi’s coastal communities including Rehri Goth and Ibrahim Hyderi, Hyderabad, Mattiari, Naushero Feroze and Thatta in Sindh, and many other parts of Punjab. And from her field research emerged a central discovery: “The biggest child health problem in Pakistan is the poor status of newborn care, leading to very high rates of deaths in newborns — one of the highest in the world.” When around 50% of the births in the country take place at home, what can one really do to save their lives is the major question posed by Zaidi’s research. “When these children become ill, hospitalisation for the families is
very difficult even if healthcare is free. [This is] because of [a] lack of facilities [available to] the mother and the family members accompanying her [at] the hospital,” she explains. “Also there is low faith in hospitals to save the baby’s life,” she reasons, identifying community-based healthcare programmes for sick newborns as the only solution to unnecessary hospitalisations. It’s this kind of sensible healthcare reform that won Zaidi ‘The Caplow Children’s Prize’, a $1 million grant to be awarded during the next three years to fight early child mortality in her proposed Rehri Goth, Karachi, which has a comparatively higher child mortality rate among all the places she has worked for. “About 11 children out of every 100 die before the age of five, and one woman out of every six living in the area has lost at least one child,” she states. The pediatrician participated in the contest financed by an American entrepreneur, Ted Caplow, to seek out innovative and cost-effective methods to save the lives of children in the area who are born in extreme poverty and suffer from malnutrition. Her proposal stood out among the other 550 submitted proposals from more than 70 organisations and individuals world over. The grant has taken her a step closer towards her goal of child health reform. “We will work to change people’s [attitude] towards planning for delivery [of babies], [secure a] transport emergency fund, [provide] nutrition support to expectant women, vaccines, and also impart an 18-month training to five women at AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery,” says Zaidi about her
I wanted to be a plastic surgeon, but when I entered medical college and began pediatric rotations, I felt it gave me so much happiness to see children on the mend Dr Anita Zaidi
A child being nebulised. JANUARY 19-25 2014
A medical lab set up by the AKU maternity project.
One of the two lady doctors treating a patient.
Dr Anita Zaidi’s proposal for the Caplow Children’s Prize stood out among the other 550 submitted proposals from more than 70 organisations and individuals world over
plans for Rehri Goth, public health tool in where people spend the country when it most of their income comes to saving the on food and safe lives of children. While drinking water. “We refuting the idea that need to train young, the vaccines supplied indigenous women by the government are to deal with these not genuine, she says, situations because “Only WHO quality they live there and certified vaccines are understand [their] brought into the counneeds better than try and this process is anybody else,” she carefully regulated. It adds. is a shame that people Among other things, can pay Rs4,000 for Zaidi has also conone vaccine [at a] pritributed in the field vate hospitals but do of immunisation as a not want to utilise [the] member of Pakistan’s government’s free vacNational Immunisacines [from] the same tion Technical Advisory manufacturer.” Group. Unfortunately, Having devoted her only 29% of children life to child health are fully vaccinated in care, Zaidi is very clear Sindh which is also a Preliminary checkup facilities available at Rehri Goth. about the attributes leading cause for child of good practice. “Docmortality. According to Zaidi, by implementing three basic tors who have [a] positive outlook in life and [a] friendly initiatives on a national scale this rate can be brought down nature become pediatricians, as it is difficult for a nonby almost two-thirds. The proposed initiatives include in- friendly person to engage with kids,” she advices. And creased care during child birth, provision of nine essential with her personality characteristics fit for the trait, she is vaccines free of cost at the Expanded Programme of Immu- bound to shape the future of pediatrics in the country. T nization (EPI) clinics across the country and breastfeeding for children for at least three months. Ishrat Ansari works at The Express Tribune Karachi desk. 34 Zaidi believes that vaccines are the single most effective She tweets @Ishrat_ansari JANUARY 19-25 2014