Creating New Knowledge

Creating New Knowledge

“Working in Pakistan where I could make a big difference just made much more sense. Also, I had a great institution, the AKU, to come home to”

Says Dr Anita Zaidi, a specialist in Infectious Diseases and Chair of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Aga Khan University (AKU).
  
Dr Anita, a member of the Class of 1988, is among the first batch of medical students to graduate from AKU and has additional degrees from Harvard Medical School and Duke University. She spent several years in USA, specialising in paediatrics.

Dr Anita has demonstrated how field research can result in practical, low-cost, life-saving solutions. ​Dr Anita has tackled the problems facing new-borns in Pakistan through a community-based, grass-root level approach, inspired partly by her exposure to community work through AKU. Her research publications have paved the way for country-level solutions.

In Pakistan, primary contributors to child mortality are pneumonia and meningitis. Dr Anita’s impact assessments of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine introduction in Pakistan determined that these vaccines can help decrease child mortality and address one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. As a member of Pakistan’s National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, Dr Anita has emphasised to the national community that vaccines are the single most effective public health tool to save children’s lives. ​ 

In a specific large scale study of pneumonia in children in Karachi, Hyderabad and Matiari districts of Sindh, and Jhelum in Punjab, Dr Anita’s research showed that Hib vaccine reduced the incidence of pneumonia cases in these areas. Strong advocacy led the government to introduce Hib vaccine through the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI), a programme that is being implemented by the government with support from the GAVI Alliance. Pakistan is the first South Asian country to include the pneumonia vaccine in its regular vaccination drive.

Dr Anita is also researching the high number of neonatal deaths prevalent in Pakistan. Most neonates who die do so in the first two days of life. This indicates the importance of clean and skilled birth practices. Dr Anita and her colleagues have identified and investigated simple diagnostic and management interventions for newborn sepsis to prevent newborn deaths. When admission to a hospital is not possible, which is often the case in rural, isolated areas where poor communities are geographically and financially constrained in accessing health facilities, simple antimicrobial therapy can save lives. 50% of births in the country do not take place in a hospital facility. Dr Anita hopes this work can also influence local and global health policy particularly for resource-constrained areas. 

Dr Anita established the first pediatric infectious diseases training programme in Pakistan in 2006. This programme provides training in infectious diseases and epidemiology with a special focus on vaccinology, to physicians in Pakistan. The programme is funded through the National Institute of Health’s Fogarty International Center, USA. 

Recently, Dr Anita’s contribution to the field of maternal and child health research was recognized when her proposal to save lives in peri-urban parts of Karachi was selected from 550 international contenders to win the $ 1 million Caplow Children’s Prize.