Saturday, December 23, 2017

Policy planners receive immunization financing training

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Immunization programme managers, health policy planners and private sector officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan attended a four-day skill-building workshop at Aga Khan University on the planning of financially sustainable national vaccination programmes.

Pakistan and Afghanistan rely on the financial support of the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) for their nationwide routine immunization programmes. 

From 2020, Pakistan will need to take on greater responsibility for financing the provision of these life-saving vaccines as GAVI phases of support in order to focus on the needs of the world’s poorest countries. 

Pakistan is currently in the preparatory transition phase and this shift requires the country’s health planners to develop the advanced skills needed to move towards self-sufficiency. 

“We’ve applied economic concepts and used real-life case studies from around the world to share practical lessons on how to plan a sustainable response to forthcoming financing challenges. Interestingly, we have kept a mix of public and private sector trainees so that we can develop a network of knowledgeable resource people who can collectively respond through pooling expertise and blended financing,” Dr Shehla Zaidi, regional trainer and an associate professor in Community Health Sciences and the Department of Women and Child Health at AKU, remarked. 

The Sindh Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho said: “Donor commitment for vaccines is declining and we have to make arrangements to fill this gap when the GAVI and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation support disappears. There should be arrangements for the local production of vaccines as this will help improve the financial sustainability of programmes.” 

The workshop was the first of three such capacity building workshops funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on vaccine economics and financing. 

During the workshop faculty from the Aga Khan University, Johns Hopkins University and senior figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), provided training sessions to immunization sector stakeholders. 

Speaking about the goals of the workshop, WHO’s Representative to Pakistan Dr Mohammad Assai said: “Vaccines save over 2 million lives a year and represent one of the most cost-effective ways to protect children and adults from disease. By addressing critical gaps in the financial planning and management of immunization programmes, these workshops will ensure that vital health programmes can manage forthcoming challenges. They will also make sure that decisions to introduce new vaccines are based on sound evidence.” 

The workshop ended with a panel discussion featuring a mix of public and private sector representatives from Pakistan and Afghanistan, moderated by literary critic and former public health specialist Asif Farrukhi, and chaired by Sindh Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho. 

The sessions under the workshop represent the university’s efforts to support Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals which call for countries around the world to ensure the availability of safe, effective, quality and affordable vaccinations for all.

Policy experts recommend steps to help Pakistan excel in science education

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The persistence of outdated teaching methods in science in Pakistan’s classrooms, coupled with a lack of emphasis on developing qualified science teachers, is holding back the country’s potential to excel in science and technology, according to public and private sector experts speaking at a policy dialogue at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development.

The policy dialogue brought together a panel of experts from Alif Ailaan, the Sindh Curriculum Bureau, the Institute of Business Administration as well as science teachers from schools and universities to discuss how to transform education practices so that today’s students can become tomorrow’s innovators.

“Innovation in science and technology begins by inspiring students about the possibilities of science. Too many classrooms across the country have teachers using rote learning methods that fail to involve students and limit their ability to apply their knowledge to the world around them,” Professor Nelofer Halai from the Institute of Educational Development observed. 

On the reasons why rote learning methods remain prevalent in schools, experts noted that there are serious gaps in the content knowledge of teachers at all levels of the education system. 

The specialist teachers for science are only present at college level; even though all students from primary to secondary to higher education should have access to knowledgeable, trained teachers. 

Since many of today’s teachers lack confidence in their understanding of the subject, they focus on telling students how to pass exams instead of teaching them how to think for themselves, the panel noted.

The experts recommended that teaching training programmes for science teachers should inquiry-based teaching methods that require students to pose questions and to develop their own processes to arrive at answers. 

To this end, Professor Halai noted that science teachers would need formal mentoring programmes to help them introduce such techniques into lesson plans and called for the induction of science teacher educators in colleges across the country. 

“Science education of the future needs to accommodate the changing views of science as well as the changing views of effective professional development to make real headway in developing science literacy in Pakistan,” Professor Halai added. 

Speaking at the event, Salman Naveed Khan, head of policy and political engagement at Alif Ailaan, said: “Subjects such as science and mathematics can be inspirational when taught well. Our studies have shown that Pakistani students consistently score the lowest in mathematics and science even though these subjects are key drivers of a country’s economic growth. We need to act now to ensure that Pakistan’s large and growing youth population is inspired by the potential of science and can contribute to the country’s prosperity.” 

The panelists also stated that the world’s most prosperous societies are distinguished by their ability to generate knowledge that helps them tackle the challenges posed by poverty, hunger, pollution and inequality. 

This ability to generate knowledge by asking questions and approaching problems in new, imaginative ways relies on a scientific mindset being inculcated at the primary, secondary and higher education levels. 

The other speakers at the event included Dr Shehzad Jeeva, director of the Aga Khan University Examination Board, Mr Noor Khoso, deputy director of the Sindh Curriculum Bureau, and Dr Irfan Rind, head of the department of education at IBA, Sukkur. 

The event’s objectives are in line with goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals: ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. Targets under the goal call for steps to widen access to education and to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rotary sets up polio immunization post in AJK

Pakistan News & Features Services

Rotary International’s Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee, ably led by the versatile Aziz Memon, has intensified its efforts to eradicate polio and recently it has provided a couple of Permanent Transit Post (PTP) shelters upon the request of NEOC Islamabad to install at Kohala Check Post and Neelum Valley in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK).

This is the maiden effort of its kind undertaken by the National Chair, Aziz Memon, and his team in the AJK. 

These two shelters were made up 20 feet long re fabricated containers to save polio workers from hard cold and rainy weather of Kashmir. 

The health department of the AJK had arranged the inauguration ceremony of a PTP shelter placed at Kohala check post which is located on river Neelum Bridge along with police check post. 

The local police was facilitating polio vaccinators at the post and ensuring to stop each vehicle till vaccination was completed.

A team of 14 polio vaccinators was working at this check post and average coverage is 350 children per day. 

The inauguration ceremony was attended by the functionaries of the World Health Organization (WHO), the local health department and the Rotary’s National Polio Plus Committee. 

The National Chair, Aziz Memon, inspected the re-fabricated shelter followed by visiting Police check post where he met with polio vaccinators and police officials.

He appreciated the best vaccination arrangements at the PTP and the role of polio workers to fight against polio.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Aga Khan inaugurates state-of-the-art healthcare education centre in Karachi

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Aga Khan University’s Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), a state-of-the-art facility for technology-based learning for health professionals, was inaugurated today by His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor of AKU.

In his inaugural address, His Highness the Aga Khan acknowledged the many contributions made towards the advancement of healthcare in the country stating that civil society was underserved in education in Pakistan. Expressing his gratitude to all those who had sustained the University, he said: “We should position this institution in its correct place in service to Pakistan.” 

The CIME’s mission is to transform the education of health professionals through the use of simulation and virtual reality technology to develop knowledge and skills before treating patients. 

“The Centre aims to raise the bar for teaching and learning and to thereby deliver higher standards of practice across the professions of medicine, nursing and allied health,” the CIME Director, Dr Charles Docherty, announced.

“We seek to become a strategic asset for Pakistan and the region that is at the forefront of efforts to raise the standard of healthcare,” he declared.

The 80,000-square foot, Rs. 1.6 billion ($15 million), donor-funded Centre comprises three buildings, the Mariyam Bashir Dawood Building, the Ibn Sina Building and the Shiraz Boghani Building. 

The Centre offers multi-purpose teaching spaces, high-fidelity simulators, and specialty environments such as the phantom-head dental lab, a cardiac catheterisation lab and telemedicine clinics. 

Learning from other such centres around the world, CIME supports student-centred problem-based and team-based learning. Students and professionals from different disciplines work together on real-life patient simulations. 

For example, nurses and doctors can practice responding to a situation in which a patient stops breathing, using a high-tech mannequin that responds as a real patient would respond. Afterwards, they can watch a video of themselves and analyse their performance. 

“Using the latest technology in simulation, whilst being guided by our faculty, makes for a more effective learning environment for students, by converting high-risk, high-reward scenarios into zero-risk, high-reward scenarios,” Ibrahim Habib, a third-year medical student at AKU, remarked. 

High-speed communications technology allows video connectivity throughout CIME and with international experts, offering a truly ‘global classroom’, with students able to learn from specialists anywhere in the world in real-time. 

This same connectivity allows CIME to work with remote and rural populations within Pakistan and neighbouring countries to expand access to quality healthcare.

“In everything we do, as our Chancellor says, ‘we must look to the future, seeking always to think creatively, to innovate and to improve,” the AKU President Firoz Rasul, stated. 

“Technology-enabled learning has the potential to transform how we prepare students and professionals to face society’s most pressing issues. By giving today’s health professionals the most advanced facilities to work and learn together at CIME, we give them the best chance of becoming leaders capable of solving tomorrow’s healthcare challenges,” he added. 

“AKU has been the recipient of significant philanthropic support. That support has enabled us to launch important new ventures, build new facilities and achieve ever-higher standards. We are very grateful to our donors for their extraordinary generosity,” the AKU President acknowledged. 

His Highness the Aga Khan laid the foundation stone for the three buildings of CIME during his previous visit to Pakistan in 2013. 

The inauguration of the facility on Friday was part of the Aga Khan’s state visit to Pakistan on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee: the 60th anniversary of his accession as the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili community in 1957.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Aziz Memon shares Karachi Gymkhana history with RI President

Pakistan News & Features Services

The President of Rotary International (RI), Ian Riseley, undertook a historic tour of Pakistan recently during which he held a number of high profile meetings including those with the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the Governor of Sindh, Mohammad Zubair.

“I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Pakistan this past week. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria. It's critical that we continue our efforts to end polio so that no child is ever inflicted with this terrible disease,” the RI President observed. 

He highly appreciated the tremendous progress made by Pakistan Polio Programme by saying that “scientifically driven decision making with robust management and accountability mechanism shows that Pakistan is well on course to polio eradication and Rotary will extend continued support till the end of this mission. Together we will be able to make it across the finish line.” 

While he attended numerous meetings and sessions round the clock during what indeed turned out to be a whirlwind tour of Pakistan one piece of history which is likely to live longer in his memory related to the historic Karachi Gymkhana. 

The RI President 2017-2018, hailing from Victoria, Australia, was briefed about the history of the Karachi Gymkhana Cricket Ground by Aziz Memon, Chairman, Pakistan Polio Plus Committee, and a former Rotary Governor.

Both the Rotary leaders, sharing the common passion for cricket, were found engaged in a serious conversation about cricket, as the visiting RI President was informed by Aziz Memon about the memorable match staged at the ground, where they were standing, which paved the way for Pakistan becoming a Test playing nation. 

Belonging to Rotary Club of Sandringham, the RI President is a chartered accountant and principal of Ian Riseley and Co., a firm he established in 1976. Prior to starting his own firm, Risely had worked in the audit and management consulting divisions of large accounting firms and corporations. 

His firm specializes in income tax and management advice for individuals and small businesses. He has a master’s degree in taxation law and graduate diplomas in accounting and income tax. 

Riseley’s honours include the AusAID Peacebuilder Award from the Australian government in recognition of his work in East Timor, the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the Australian community, the Distinguished Service Award and the Regional Service Award for a Polio-Free World from The Rotary Foundation.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Comprehensive medical atlas launched

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The faculty at Aga Khan University has launched a comprehensive medical atlas aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections which are becoming a growing public health concern in Pakistan.

The new book Practical Guide and Atlas of the Diagnosis of Fungal Infections was launched at the 1st International Collaborative Mycology (ICM) Conference, jointly organized by the global research and advocacy body, Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI), the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan and AKU. 

The skin specialists from around Pakistan told the conference that common fungal infections affecting the skin are now the leading cause of patients visiting skin clinics and hospitals. 

Despite the prevalence of such infections and the fact that 3.2 million Pakistanis are living with infections such as keratitis, which can cause blindness, and the life-threatening Candida auris infection, researchers noted that there is no specific national policy on fungal disease. 

“Fungal disease is an area almost forgotten by public health professionals and policymakers. Since treatment options for these diseases are already limited this policy oversight has dangerous implications. Fungal infections also represent a growing threat to the livelihood of our animals and plants which harms the country’s food security and biodiversity,” Dr Kausar Jabeen, associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at AKU and chair of the conference, remarked.

The speakers at the book launch ceremony on the first day of the conference mentioned how the book contains high resolution microscopic images of over 20 types of fungal infections caused by more than 60 fungal species that have been reported at the country’s healthcare institutions. 

Compiled over a period of 6 years and through a series of eight intensive workshops, the publication also contains detailed instructions to guide medical professionals and students in diagnosing these infections, they added. 

The sessions at the conference also focused on the key concern of growing fungal resistance to medications which were narrowing treatment options and leaving patients little choice beyond very expensive drugs. 

Commenting on the challenges in treating by a serious fungal infection, Candida auris, which can trigger sepsis, a deadly illness that causes inflammation throughout the body, the speakers noted that poor availability of medicines was leading to delays in treatment. Even when medicines were present, the prohibitive cost of using second-line drugs, which can cost around Rs 13,000 per day, limited the availability of treatment, the experts added. 

Speaking in a global context, Professor David Denning, President of GAFFI, stated that fungal infections claim 1.6 million lives around the world every year: a death toll that exceeds malaria and is equivalent to the lives lost to tuberculosis. Similarly, fungi and fungi-like micro-organisms, oomycetes, commonly known as water mould, destroy a third of all food crops around the world which would have fed 600 million people. 

“The World Health Organization has no funded programmes specifically targeting fungal diseases, fewer than 10 countries have national surveillance programs for fungal infections, and fewer than 20 have fungal reference diagnostic laboratories. Many of the diagnostic tests that do exist are not available in developing countries, and well-established antifungal drugs that would cure disease are not reaching people that need them,” Professor Denning added. 

The experts from various disciplines of medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, food and pharmaceutical industry were present at the two-day event. The conference was followed by a day of workshops at AKU’s Centre for Innovation in Medical Education. 

The conference’s objectives to improve the diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections are in line with global efforts to achieve infectious disease targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. 

The new book Practical Guide and Atlas of the Diagnosis of Fungal Infections has been edited by Professor Afia Zafar alongside co-editors Dr Kausar Jabeen and Dr Joveria Farooqi.

AKU graduates urged to seize opportunities to innovate

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

In his address to Aga Khan University’s 2017 convocation, chief guest Sindh Governor, Mohammad Zubair, extended his personal congratulations to the 360-strong graduating class.

He praised parents and faculty for their contribution in the graduands’ achievements calling them “great players” in building the character and future prospects of today’s students. 

In his welcome address, the AKU President, Firoz Rasul, recognized the determination, passion and talent of the students as he urged them to remember the importance of innovation in overcoming tomorrow’s challenges. 

He highlighted how an innovative mindset required a willingness to explore new perspectives and to engage with others to find alternative ways to solve problems. 

“The innovator is above all a seeker. She feels in her bones that there is another and better way. But she also knows she does not possess all the answers. So she is driven to search for knowledge, to question the prevailing wisdom, to explore the world with her eyes wide open.”

In the quest for knowledge, there is no greater resource available than a mindset that values pluralism and diversity, which enables one to pool together the benefits of different traditions, novel perspectives and undervalued opinions to deliver meaningful innovations, the AKU President added. 

The convocation was an especially memorable day for MBBS student Atiya Hameedullah as she joined her father in becoming alumni from the University. Atiya’s father, Dr Hameed Ullah completed his residency in anaesthesiology from AKU in 1996. 

Speaking on the day, Atiya said: “It is such an honor to be graduating from AKU today, 26 years after both my parents graduated as doctors. Words cannot do justice to the sacrifices they have made to get me to where I stand today so I shall just say this: ‘Ammi and Abbi, this one’s for you. Thank you.” 

Another proud parent, Kashif Malik, a gastroenterologist at Shaikh Zayed Hospital, Lahore, was delighted to see his daughter, Ramsha Kashif, an MBBS graduate, follow in his footsteps by becoming a doctor. 

A delighted Ramsha said: “My father has made such a tremendous effort to support me through these five wonderful years at AKU. His dedication to patients was my key inspiration to begin this journey and I really hope that one day I am able to give this profession the same level of commitment that he does.” 

The Convocation 2017 saw the School of Nursing and Midwifery graduate 129 nurses, 118 with undergraduate and 11 with graduate degrees. The Medical College awarded 40 masters and 91 bachelor’s degrees, as well as three advanced diplomas and 11 diplomas in dental hygiene. 

The AKU also awarded 37 master’s degrees in education and 12 Master of Arts in Muslim Cultures. The Medical College’s 2017 Best Graduate Award was presented to Dr Mujtaba Mubashir who achieved the highest aggregate score in the certifying examinations through the five-year programme leading to the MBBS degree. 

Dr Mubashir also received the Medical College’s Gold Medal, only the 9th to be awarded to a student who achieves the top scores in at least three of the four certifying examinations, including the final examination. 

Amyna Ismail received the 2017 Best Graduate Award from the School of Nursing and Midwifery. This award is presented to the student who achieves the highest CGPA among the graduating classes in the BScN and Post-RN BScN programmes and who is also selected for the Nursing Practice Award. 

The Nursing Practice Award is given to the graduating student whose clinical and community practice reflected a client-centered approach, distinctive critical thinking, problem solving abilities and ethical decision making.