AnitaZ-IntlWomensDay

 Serve Pakistan. Who would have thought that such a simplistic statement, said during a medical school graduation, would leave such a tremendous impact? With these words, His Highness the Aga Khan founder and Chancellor of Aga Khan University (AKU), was able to inspire the future work of the Dr. Anita Zaidi.  After graduating from medical school in 1988 Dr. Zaidi worked within the impoverished communities of northern Pakistan. It was in this setting that she solidified her interests in public health, maternal health, and child health.  Following her work in northern Pakistan, Dr. Zaidi completed a residency in pediatrics and fellowship in medical microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, training in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a Masters in Public Health from Harvard.

Despite her successful educational career in the United States, Dr. Zaidi was clear that she wanted to improve child health within Pakistan. Dr. Zaidi’s return to her native country represents only a minority of physicians who do this. For example, Pakistani medical institutions indicate that of the approximately 10,000 US trained medical practitioners only 300 have returned to practice medicine in Pakistan (3%). This is a reality for many developing countries and it’s a phenomenon known as brain drain. Basically, in the medical field, it is a transnational migration of healthcare workers usually from developing to developed countries for better educational and job opportunities, better pay, and increased quality of life. As these professionals leave their country of origin, their departure challenges the capacities of local healthcare systems to bring care and expertise to populations that often have the greatest need for healthcare.

We salute the work and contributions of native physicians such as Dr. Zaidi that seek to improve healthcare and the quality of life for impoverished and disadvantaged populations in their local communities. According to Dr. Zaidi “The single most important intervention to reduce neonatal mortality is provision of clean and skilled birth because most neonates, who die, do so in the first two days of life.” Her solutions shift the task for delivering babies from doctors to trained community midwives as a culturally conscious method to improve infant and child mortality while simultaneously empowering women. “As the majority of newborns in Pakistan, and many other south Asian and sub-Saharan African countries, are born at home and families of sick newborns cannot easily access hospitals, this type of work has the potential to influence local and global health policy for management of newborn sepsis and provide life-saving alternatives in resource-limited settings.”