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Showing posts with label AKU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AKU. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

AKU observes Rare Disease Day 2020

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The policymakers and stakeholders were unanimous in their plea to pay greater attention to the challenges posed by rare diseases in Pakistan as they shared their thoughts and vision in the conference to mark Rare Disease Day 2020 at the Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi. 

It was noted that globally there are over 6,000 diseases classified as rare as they affected fewer than 1 in 2,000 people while in Pakistan, these diseases are not so rare because a major risk factor is prevalent: inter-family marriages which significantly raise the risk of their children suffering from genetic defects and disorders. 

Dr Bushra Afroze, associate professor at AKU and a clinical geneticist at the University’s teaching hospital, shared the story of a girl from a small town in Sindh, to explain how the health care system’s shortcomings were affecting those living with rare diseases. 

“The girl was eight when the unusual symptoms started to appear. She began to lose her hair, fall over while walking, be inattentive in class and face difficulties in writing. As her problems appeared to be neurological, she was taken to a neurologist and erroneously diagnosed with a non-treatable disorder, preventing her from receiving timely treatment. When she started to experience additional symptoms such as the tendency to repeat words, she was thought to be crazy, leading to more distress for her and her family,” it was narrated. 

“Thankfully, her parents continued to feel that something was wrong and to search for help. They were finally referred to one of the country’s few genetics specialists in Karachi to learn that their daughter has remethylation defect in vitamin B12, a serious metabolic disorder,” she revealed. 

Dr Bushra Afroze explained that providing quality care to children required high-quality system-wide changes that could address several constraints: a lack of awareness; shortage of facilities, expertise and institutions as well as the geographic and economic inequities that people with rare diseases face.
She quoted The Lancet Global Health Commission on High Quality Health Systems in the SDG Era 2018 report which stated that providing health services without guaranteeing a minimum level of quality as being ineffective, wasteful, and unethical. 

Currently, there is a range of gaps in the arrangements to provide quality care for patients suffering from rare diseases. Narrowing these gaps will require collaboration between stakeholders across the spheres of research, healthcare, academia and government. 

“Quality is not a given. Ensuring quality treatment for rare diseases will take vision, planning, investment, compassion, meticulous execution, and rigorous monitoring, from the national level to the smallest, remotest clinic,” she added. 

As a first step, the experts at the conference highlighted the importance of screening newborns for rare diseases. A simple blood test, compulsory in China, Canada, the US, as well many countries in Asia and Europe, can enable the prompt detection and treatment of such conditions. 

AKU’s Professor Ayesha Habib, chair of the conference, explained that tests that can screen for over 50 rare illnesses have been common in the developing world for over 50 years. In Pakistan less than 1 per cent of newborns are currently being screened for these diseases, since only a handful of private hospitals offer these services, and for a narrow range of just five rare diseases. 

She added that more hospitals need to offer screening for rare diseases and called on the government to consider how such services could be scaled up through the public health insurance measures being introduced under the government’s Ehsaas programme. 

The speakers at the conference also spoke of the role of researchers in the field. At present, there are no national level studies or surveys on the prevalence of rare diseases. While there are a small number of patient registries for specific rare diseases, they exist in silos within hospitals. 

Data sharing between hospitals would not only enhance the accuracy of information (since a single patient travels to multiple doctors and could be recorded more than once) but would also help form a roster of patients that would enable treatment options to be explored through clinical trials. Efforts by the federal health ministry are also needed to support and streamline registries, speakers added. 

Professor Ayesha Habib noted that academics, clinicians and researchers need to create partnerships that would intensify the development of knowledge and skills in the field. She also highlighted the importance of patient advocacy groups in facilitating research and in fostering synergies between stakeholders. 

“Collaboration enables everyone to benefit from each other’s strengths. The challenge posed by rare diseases requires us to make the most of our existing resources while developing national and international partnerships that can meet the complex needs of those living with rare diseases that are currently being neglected,” she remarked. 

The conference Reframe Rare in Pakistan: Breaking Silos and Bringing Synergies was preceded by two days of workshops that brought together genetic researchers, pathologists and child health specialists from public and private sector organizations across the country. 

Other speakers at the event included Professor Shahid Mahmood Baig, head of Human Molecular Genetics at the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering and Professor Giancarlo La Marca, president of the Italian Society for Newborn Screening and Metabolic Diseases.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Spotlight on rare diseases in Pakistan


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, in collaboration with Division of Women & Child Health, of the Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, is holding Multidisciplinary Conference on Rare Genetic Diseases in Pakistan from March 4 to 7. 

The conference will bring together genetic researchers, pathologists and child health specialists from public and private sector organizations across the country at one platform. 

The programme is focused at outcome and challenges in management of inherited metabolic disorders, newborn screening, rare disorders case presentations and good laboratory practices alongside the ethical challenges. 

Furthermore, international experts form USA, Italy and New Zealand will also address the symposia and facilitate workshops to train the local work force aimed at establishment of Newborn Screening in the country. 

The conference provides the opportunity to interact closely with course presenters and faculty who are national and international leaders in their respective fields. The participants can expect to learn about the latest updates in research, innovation and clinical care of rare diseases including inherited metabolic disorders.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

New typhoid protecting vaccine found


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

An emergency vaccination campaign in Sindh following the outbreak of typhoid in the province has found the typhoid conjugate vaccine to be effective in preventing new cases of the disease. 

The researchers of a recent event at Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, revealed that over 10,000 cases of extensively drug resistant (XDR) typhoid, a strain of the disease resistant to an unprecedented range of antibiotics, have been reported since 2016 in Karachi and Hyderabad which led to the launch of an emergency vaccination campaign in January 2018 in the worst affected areas of Hyderabad which saw 207,000 children between 6 months and 10 years of age receive the new vaccine. 

At the same time as the campaign, researchers set up a surveillance system in the same area over an 18-month period to screen a cohort of over 20,000 children, who received the vaccine, to detect cases of typhoid. They found that 9 out of 10 children in the cohort, or 89 per cent, did not contract the disease. 

“The results of the vaccine’s effectiveness are in line with a study in Nepal. This strengthens the case for the national rollout of the vaccine,” Dr Farah Qamar, an associate professor in paediatrics and child health at AKU, remarked.

During the event, Dr Farah Qamar spoke about how lessons from the Hyderabad campaign had been applied in Lyari, Karachi, and during the Sindh-wide rollout, conducted in November 2018, which aimed to reach over 10 million children during a three-week period. 

A mop-up campaign is now being planned in Sindh in March 2020 to immunize children between the age of 9 months and 15 years missed during the previous drive. 

The researchers noted that parents, whose children haven’t receive the vaccine, are keen to participate in the forthcoming immunization campaign. 

The speakers at the event revealed that cases of typhoid were being reported in parts of the Punjab province such as Lahore and Multan. The province is yet to launch the vaccine. 

The Punjab EPI Director, Dr Muhammad Saeed Akhtar, informed that cases of XDR typhoid and multi-drug resistant typhoid had been noticed to date.

“The Punjab government plans to include the vaccine in its routine immunization programme between September and October 2020. We will study the lessons learned from the Sindh campaign in order to ensure the success of our drive,” he shared. 

Dr Anita Zaidi, director of vaccine development, surveillance, and enteric and diarrheal diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed her support for efforts to generate evidence of the efficacy for this vaccine against typhoid fever. 

She added that a strategy to combat typhoid requires an integrated approach that covers access to clean water, improved sanitation, and immunization. 

During the event, the researchers from the AKU explained how their collaboration with the health authorities in Hyderabad helped trace the cause of the outbreak. 

“Our research involved geographic mapping which highlighted how the majority of typhoid cases were reported around sewage lines. Household water samples also tested positive for contamination showing that the drinking of contaminated water was the most likely cause for the outbreak,” Dr Momin Kazi, an assistant professor (research) in paediatrics and child health at AKU, mentioned. 

The research and policy advocacy efforts supporting the vaccine’s launch were backed by a team at AKU including Professor Rumina Hasan, Professor Zahra Hasan and Dr Sadia Shakoor from the department of pathology and microbiology, Dr Farah Qamar, Dr Tahir Yousafzai and Dr Momin Kazi from the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU.  

The control and prevention of water-borne diseases such as typhoid is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for the eradication of such diseases by 2030.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Healthcare workers bring about meaningful reduction in blood pressure

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

A multi-country research study in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has found that a low-cost, multi-component intervention helped deliver a clinically meaningful reduction in blood pressure levels among patients living with high blood pressure, or hypertension, as well as better control of the condition.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the multi-country intervention trial, Control of Blood Pressure and Risk Attenuation of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (COBRA-BPS), evaluated the effectiveness of a range of interventions consisting of home visits by community healthcare workers to monitor blood pressure (BP) and provide lifestyle coaching, coupled with physician training and coordination with the public health care infrastructure among 2,550 individuals with hypertension living in 30 rural communities in the three South Asian countries over two years.

At the end of the study, the decline in mean systolic BP was 5 mmHg greater in the intervention group versus the control group, which received the usual care. Reduction in mean diastolic BP and BP control (<140/90 mmHg) was also better in the intervention group. The intervention also increased adherence to anti-hypertensive medications and lipid-lowering medicines, and improved some aspects of self-reported health. Additionally, there was a suggestion of a reduction in deaths in the intervention group.

“A sustained 5 mm Hg reduction in systolic BP at a community level translates into about a 30 per cent reduction in death and disability from cardiovascular disease,” Professor Tazeen H. Jafar from Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, who is the principal investigator of the three-country study, remarked.


“Our study demonstrates that an intervention led by community health workers and delivered using the existing healthcare systems in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka can lead to clinically meaningful reductions in BP as well as confer additional benefits all at a low cost,” the professor added.

Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and a leading cause of premature death globally leading to adverse economic consequences.


In Pakistan one in three adults suffered from high blood pressure, according to a 2016 study by the Pakistan Health Research Council. The control and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension is a global health priority with targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calling for a one-third reduction in deaths caused by such diseases by 2030.

Hypertension is a lifestyle disease and can be prevented and controlled by changing dietary and living habits. Risk factors that can cause hypertension include an unhealthy diet, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, psychosocial stressors, and excess alcohol consumption.

Aga Khan University’s Dr Imtiaz Jehan, the study’s country principal investigator in Pakistan and a co-author, said: “Uncontrolled hypertension, a lack of public awareness of the disease and its contributing risk factors, as well as inadequate anti-hypertensive medicine use are alarmingly high in Pakistan.”

“Controlling BP through lifestyle modifications and antihypertensive therapy can be the single most important way to prevent rising rates of cardiovascular disease and deaths in Pakistan. This trial seems timely to furnish evidence regarding sustainable and low-cost pragmatic solutions for effective BP control that can be integrated into our public primary healthcare system of lady health workers as well as referrals to basic health units through standardised training and task shifting,” Dr Imtiaz Jehan added.

Aga Khan University’s Dr Aamir Hameed Khan, the study’s co-investigator in Pakistan and a co-author highlighted the need to create a mechanism for refresher trainings for public and private sector physicians in order to effectively manage and control hypertension. He noted that the trainings provided through the trial were well received by physicians and local authorities. 

“The public health implications of our findings are significant. A low-cost programme like ours could be adapted and scaled up in many other settings globally, using the existing healthcare infrastructure to reduce the growing burden of uncontrolled hypertension and potentially save millions of lives, as well as reduce suffering from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease,” Professor Jafar added.

A formal cost-effectiveness analysis is currently underway by Professor Eric Finkelstein, a health economist at Duke-NUS and the Duke Global Health Institute. Early estimates by the study group suggest that scaling up the COBRA-BPS intervention nationally in the three countries would cost less than US$11 per patient annually.

This is the first multi-country trial of its kind and a model of South-South collaboration. While there are differences in the health systems and some population characteristics in the countries involved, BP control rates are uniformly poor in all of them. Nonetheless, the study found that similar results were achieved in all three countries with the standardized strategies, suggesting that the intervention has validity in different settings.  

The COBRA-BPS study is led by Professor Tazeen Jafar and her team at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore in partnership with Dr Imtiaz Jehan from Aga Khan University, Pakistan; Dr Aliya Naheed from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh; and Prof Asita de Silva from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, leading the trial as country principal investigators in the three countries respectively. 

The study is funded by the Joint Global Health Trials scheme, which included the Medical Research Council, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and the Wellcome Trust.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

AKU Surgical Conference calls for systemic approach to reduce injury deaths


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The experts, while speaking at the inaugural session of the 5th AKU Annual Surgical Conference, having the theme Trauma: Striving for Change, reckoned that thousands of injury deaths every year in Pakistan could be averted by taking safety measures on one side and by adopting a systematic approach to improve trauma care on the other side. 

A systematic approach ensures that life-saving interventions are performed in a timely manner and that no life-threatening conditions are missed, the speakers at the event, organized by the Aga Khan University (AKU), noted. 

As per the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, such an approach could consist of emergency care in the form of first aid being provided by a trained bystander, who can also call an ambulance, equipped with necessary life support and at least two personnel, one to monitor and manage the patient and the other to drive. Ambulance personnel should be able to communicate to a relevant hospital prior to arrival, if needed. 

During the handover, the ambulance provider should share critical information with hospital personnel, who then triage patients to different areas based on the seriousness of their condition. 

Research from the conference was published in a special supplement of the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA). 

During the event, Professor Syed Ather Enam, chair of the Department of Surgery at AKU, referred to a case report of a two and half-year old boy, who sustained three gunshots at point-blank range. 

The child was unresponsive when the terrified family brought him to the emergency department of the Aga Khan University Hospital after trying two nearby hospitals. 

When the patient did not respond to initial resuscitation efforts, a team of paediatric, cardiothoracic and orthopaedic surgery, and paediatric anesthesiology specialists was taken on board and he was moved to the operating room immediately. 

“Today, he is a healthy four-and-a-half-year old schoolgoing child. There could be thousands of people who were not lucky like him. That’s because our hospitals lack multidisciplinary teams of specialists and the emergency care system as a whole is short of fully equipped ambulances and trained bystanders,” Professor Enam said. 

The AKU’s Annual Surgical Conference brought together national and international experts with expertise in pre-hospital care, mass casualty, rehabilitation, prevention and disaster management. 

“Since blood loss is the leading cause of preventable death following injury, rapid control of bleeding at the scene of an event can be lifesaving, especially if bystanders can step in to help before emergency responders arrive,” Eileen Bulger, a professor of surgery at the University of Washington, remarked. 

On the second day of the conference, the AKU’s upcoming Centre of Excellence for Trauma and Emergencies, and partners will launch a national life-saving initiative focused on bystander training in life support. Emergency care is essential to many targets of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Under SDG 3, good health and wellbeing: Post-crash emergency care and rehabilitation has been estimated to play a role in preventing 40 per cent of road traffic deaths. 

"Also, timely emergency care access is critical to effective universal health coverage. Emergency care can also contribute to efforts to achieve targets under 10 more SDGs by addressing non-communicable diseases, obstetric complications, child health issues, and injuries related to disasters and violence,"Hasan Badre Alam, a professor of surgery at the University of Michigan, informed.

The AKU Vice Provost Anjum Halai, Medical College, Dean, Adil Haider, and chair of the event’s organizing committee Hasnain Zafar also spoke at the conference. 

The Annual AKU Surgical Conference, organized by the Department of Surgery at the AKU in Karachi, offered unparalleled hands-on and didactic learning opportunities, timely discourse on the most relevant surgical practices and research and networking with peers. The last year’s conference had focused on the global surgery.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

AKU surgery conference begins on Feb 14

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The 5th AKU (Aga Khan University) Annual Surgical Conference from February 14 to 16 in Karachi will focus on how these precious lives can be saved by following a systematic approach for improving trauma care, training and research. 

As injury kills more people every year than HIV, TB and malaria combined, and the overwhelming majority of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, the theme of this year’s conference is 'Trauma: Striving for Change' will enable the experts and participants to deliberate on those burning issues. 

The conference will bring together national and international experts with expertise in pre-hospital care, mass casualty, rehabilitation, prevention and disaster management. 

On the second day of the conference, the AKU’s upcoming Centre of Excellence for Trauma and Emergencies, and partners will launch a national life-saving initiative focused on trauma care.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Innovative solutions proposed to boost emergency preparedness at schools


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The students, teachers, engineers and experts from different walks of life gathered to design cost-effective and locally-relevant solutions to enhance the ability of schools to manage natural and man-made disasters, during a three-day hackathon at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development. 

The participants at the event noted that the rare nature of emergencies such as fires, floods and other safety hazards meant that public and private sector schools were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with such crises. 

Unfortunately, such one-off events can have a disproportionate, and often catastrophic, impact on a school’s operations and stakeholders. That’s why emergency response trainings, safety drills and other means of ensuring emergency preparedness need to be a regular part of a school’s strategic planning and processes, the speakers pointed out. 

The experts added that mitigation measures were often taken in the aftermath of disasters as they called on schools to adopt a forward-thinking approach that considered all possible risks in their environment as well as the processes needed to effectively manage a disaster. 

One of the three winning teams at the event, BVS School Team, highlighted the problem of fires caused by short circuits in computer labs, classrooms and staff rooms. 

They noted that the simple, preventive step of installing a carbon dioxide chamber inside electrical switchboards could stop a potential fire at its source and reduce the threat of loss of life and property. Other teams at the event identified the way safety drills were conducted as being a problem. 

“The customary drills that happen in my school are casually planned. There is no seriousness exhibited on the part of student body or administration. It’s critical that the mindset changes before any calamity strikes again,” Ahsan, a high school student taking part in the hackathon, remarked. 

Team Zords proposed the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to ensure active participation in safety drills. They stated that VR provided an immersive experience for trainees which enhanced the retention of key concepts. The team called on schools to prepare tailored sessions and a ‘safety curriculum’ that would enable them to impart safety drills in a more engaging manner. 

The final winning team at the event, ER Tales, also selected the problem of a lack of attention during drills leading to ineffective response during emergencies and disaster situations. 

They suggested the use of pictorial storybooks as a supplement to drills. The use of stories centered on safety would build interest in the subject and drills could then be used to assess the level of knowledge and ability to effectively respond to a situation. 

During the hackathon, Zara Qadir, a primary school teacher, shared an instance of the impact of effective security drills. 

She recalled hearing a siren in class and seeing her students spring into action to shut the windows and switch off the lights before they all hid under their desks. Zara mistook the siren, which was for an intruder alert, for a fire alarm. 

When she asked students to leave the room to head for the fire assembly point, they responded that they were supposed to hide and stay invisible in order to stay safe. 

“The purpose of our hackathons is not only to mobilise people within the organization, but also to demonstrate the event’s ability to engage the external community in the innovation process. The school preparedness for emergencies hack is a classic example of that democratisation of the innovation process,” Dr Asad Mian, founder of AKU’s Critical Creative Innovative Thinking Forum (CCIT) and chair of emergency medicine at the University, observed. 

"We are thrilled to see the energy and creativity the participants have poured into this hackathon. Creating safe schools is not an afterthought now: it is a priority and the community is working together to design solutions to help schools prepare for emergencies,” Azra Naseem, one of the event’s co-organizers, a faculty member at AKU’s Institute for Educational Development and associate director of the Blended Learning Network at AKU, added. 

The event was organized by AKU's Institute for Educational Development and CCIT forum in collaboration with the University’s departments of emergency medicine, and safety and security.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

AKU’s CIME becomes South Asia’s first simulation-based educational institution


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Aga Khan University’s Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME) has become South Asia’s first simulation-based educational institution to be accredited by the US-based Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSIH). 

The University’s CIME was judged to meet the highest standards in simulation-based education by the SSIH which has accredited over 170 centres in 19 countries around the world. The accreditation means that CIME will join a global community of practice bringing the latest advances in the field to Pakistan. 

The simulation-based education represents a significant advance on traditional classroom and theory-based instruction. 

Designed to be an immersive ‘real world’ experience, simulation, in the field of healthcare, enables medical and nursing trainees and professionals to practice key skills and techniques, using virtual reality and high-fidelity patient mannequins, in a risk-free environment before working with patients. 

The CIME Director Charles Docherty, Dr Robert J Buchanan, Professor in Teaching and Technology, received the award during a ceremony in San Diego. In his speech at the event, he noted: “Healthcare is both an art and a science. While textbooks and teachers can teach concepts, simulation-based education augments the academic experience by challenging students to apply their knowledge and inter-personal skills in realistic settings.” 

“The result is that students feel more confident when they begin practicing as they are already familiar with the equipment to be used and the processes to be followed. This leads to a much better experience for students and patients,” he added. 

As a pioneer in healthcare simulation in Pakistan, the 80,000 square feet CIME is Pakistan’s only facility that enables aspiring doctors, nurses, dentists and allied health professionals to work collaboratively on a range of challenging, technology-enhanced patient scenarios. 

“The CIME was founded with the vision of introducing state-of-the-art learning technologies to raise overall standards of healthcare education across Pakistan. There are simulation centres around the world that have been operating for decades without achieving accreditation from the SSIH. We are very proud that CIME has been able to achieve this distinction within two years of its formal inauguration,” the AKU President, Firoz Rasul, remarked. 

The CIME runs over 200 simulation-based courses, ranging from basic life-support to complex birth scenarios that have improved the skills of thousands of healthcare professionals to date. 

“We’re pleased to recognize Aga Khan University’s Centre for Innovation in Medical Education for meeting the highest standards in the practice of simulation in healthcare. The Aga Khan University now joins the ranks of over 170 institutions from 19 countries,” Kristyn Gadlage, Director of accreditation at the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, announced. 

The CIME is open to students from other universities and healthcare institutions across Pakistan and is currently working with public sector bodies in the country as well as centres in Kenya, Uganda and Egypt on initiatives to raise the standard of simulation-based healthcare education.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Eminent cardiologists speak at Pulse 2020


By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Dietary practices are a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in Pakistan because health practitioners have difficulty translating international recommendations according to local diet. In the absence of any national data on dietary consumption, health practitioners are unaware of what people are consuming. 

There is a need for an operational policy and an action plan to promote healthy eating and active lifestyle, the speakers noted at the First Cardiovascular Conference ‘Pulse 2020’ held at Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi. 

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in Pakistan, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, and the country has committed to reducing the burden of such diseases by a third by 2030 under goal 3 of the sustainable development goals. 

The experts at the three-day conference stressed that the epidemic poses many challenges in the country due to the high cost of diagnosis and treatment and lack of prevention knowledge among patients. 

“Health is a partnership between a patient and his/her doctor, so empowerment has to happen from both ends. Right choices in dietary practices need to be picked by patients and advised by health professionals,” Dr Saira Bukhari, an assistant professor of cardiology in the department of medicine, remarked. 

There have been well-designed studies in the last few years which have found that diets which are inclined towards one set of nutrients as opposed to others don’t work and do more harm than good. 

“Such dietary practices are in contradiction to how the human body functions. It is all about having a diet of moderation,” Dr Romaina Iqbal, associate professor and section head for non-communicable diseases, NCDs, in the department of community health sciences at the AKU, added. 

Dr Romaina Iqbal recommended eating a balanced diet composed of complex carbohydrates, a variety of nutrients along with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise for adults of all ages. 

The speakers noted that numerous dietary plans catch media’s attention and people adopt them. The experts stressed that health practitioners need to introduce the language of prevention with patients. 

The knowledge of symptoms of cardiovascular diseases such as chest pain, shortage of breath, unusual heart beat and loss of consciousness are some of the indicators that patients should be informed about. 

Dr Saira Bukhari said that ideas promoting stereotypical notions of age and health such as how cholesterol and blood pressure numbers should be at a particular age should be discouraged. 

“Patients need to be enabled to make informed choices of their health because every delayed intervention increases the chance of heart attacks and even stroke,” she added. 

The keynote speaker, Dr Faiez Zannad, a cardiologist and clinical pharmacologist at Universit√© de Lorraine in France, reckoned that the global progress in treating heart failure has been spectacular in the last 25 years with mortality declining three fold in dedicated clinical trials, pointing out that evidence from global clinical trials show income inequality as a factor determining clinical outcomes in heart failure. 

“It is desirable that patients and investigators from Pakistan get involved in global trials and join the efforts of knowledge production,” he said. 

Two other keynote speakers who spoke at the conference included Dr Jospeh Kisslo, professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and Eric Velazquez, professor of medicine at Yale University. 

The conference was held in collaboration between AKU’s section of cardiology and department of medicine, the Association of Pakistani-descent Cardiologists of North America, the Pakistan Hypertension League and the Pakistan Aspirin Foundation. The event was attended cardiologists, postgraduate students, nurses, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pakistan advised to revise approach to gender equality

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Pakistan’s economic and social development indicators will continue to lag behind other counties until it rethinks its approach to gender equity and commits to gender mainstreaming, according to the experts speaking at a conference at Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi.

The speakers at ‘The Time is Now: Gender Equity and Women in Leadership’ noted that there was widespread misinformation about the scale of gender inequality in the workplace and society as a whole. 

They explained that while most people are willing to assert that men and women should be treated as equals, they rarely question why there continues to be a lack of women in upper management and leadership positions across the public and private sector. 

Pakistan has the second lowest rank in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, behind all other countries in South Asia. Estimates suggest that it will take over 70 years for the country’s men and women to have equal levels of economic participation and opportunity, parity in educational and health indicators, and similar levels of political empowerment. 

“There are strong cultural norms and structural inequities that continue to hold women back,” Dr Ayesha Mian, conference chair, who holds the positions of dean of students and chair of the department of psychiatry at AKU, remarked.
She stated that these norms mean that men are rarely expected to make compensations in their career for their family, or to play an equal role in parenting and caregiving. 

Similarly, women, to a much greater degree than men, face double standards in the workplace and are held to a higher benchmark than men. 

For example, women are often labelled as ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive’ for actions deemed acceptable for men, and women’s requests for flexible work timings to deal with family commitments are more likely to be seen as showing a lack of commitment to the workplace. One of the most noticeable inequalities is in pay parity which worsens as women ascend the corporate ladder. 

Dr Ayesha shared how data from the United States shows that on average women earn 21 per cent less than men, while women who reach the top positions are paid a salary that is 61 per cent lower than their male counterparts.
“Gender equality involves society equally valuing the different needs, behaviours and aspirations of women and men, boys and girls. By being knowledgeable and responsive to gender considerations societies can ensure that everyone has the same rights, responsibilities and access to opportunity, regardless of whether they were born male or female,” Lindsay Mossman, senior gender equality adviser at the Aga Khan Foundation, Canada, observed. 

The worthy speakers at the conference called on organizations to make their planning and decision making processes more sensitive and responsive to the importance of gender. This approach, often referred to as gender mainstreaming, would enable the country to achieve gender equality. 

This would require workplaces to place a greater emphasis on collecting and reporting on the performance of programmes by gender. This includes details on how many men and women are promoted, those dropping out of the workforce or, how a company’s operations affect each gender. 

In the absence of gender-disaggregated information, management cannot monitor whether initiatives to narrow gaps are working nor can they be held accountable. 

Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation, shared examples of how her organisation maintained gender-specific data on employee participation and attainment levels that enabled action to be taken if inequalities were noticed. 

She disclosed that when data showed that women were dropping out of the workforce after marriage, she was able to launch awareness programmes for their families to address the issue. 

She added that her organization would not open a branch in an area until they achieve parity between female and male staff. 

Gender-disaggregated information drives change in organisations and the current reliance on anecdotal data to assess progress tends to disguise inequalities and to promote tokenism. 

For example, many workplaces cite the presence of a few token women in senior positions, or the absence of complaints, as proof that their internal systems and practices are fair. This perpetuates a mistaken belief that low levels of female representation are a result of women’s capabilities and their own personal choices, which further impedes efforts to ensure equality. 

Gender mainstreaming also requires a commitment to parity in interview panels and committees. Organizations should always be asking themselves if there is a diverse group of decision-makers on the table that represent different strengths and perspectives, the speakers noted. 

Moreover, parity needs to be present at all levels in the organization: boardroom, executive level, senior management and general workforce. 

In the long-term, the presence of a critical mass of women in leadership positions has been found to have an aspirational effect on other females, the speakers added. 

The Unilever Pakistan Chairperson and CEO, Shazia Syed, spoke about the importance of being sensitive to the needs of different employees. 

She explained how her company had opened a women’s hostel in Karachi so that the parents of female employees feel comfortable with their daughter living on her own in a large city. 

“Daycare facilities are available for both men and women with children as this helps ensure that the wives of male employees are able to continue working,” she revealed. 

During a panel session, the Standard Chartered Pakistan CEO, Shazad Dada, noted that organizations that were diverse and sensitive to gender considerations were more productive and would benefit from staff more committed to the company. 

He added that gender equality initiatives made solid business sense and stated that the country as a whole would suffer if 50 per cent of its population continued to be left behind. 

The speakers concluded that the gender gap is concerning for Pakistan as the sustainable development goals contain a set of targets related to gender equality which Pakistan has committed to achieving by 2030. 

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that the global economy would grow by US $28 trillion, or 25 per cent, if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men. Pakistan’s low ranking in gender equality means that it has the potential to benefit to a much greater extent from initiatives to promote gender equality, they added. 

Dr Ayesha Mian, who is spearheading the Gender Equity and Women in Leadership initiative at AKU, informed that universities have an integral role in hosting discourses with multiple community stakeholders on issues that are pressing and critical to society. 

Over 400 academics, activists and representatives from the banking, healthcare, media, law, and fast-moving consumer goods industries took part in the one-day event which is the first of a series of conferences aimed at spurring efforts to address the problem of gender inequality.