In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Aga Khan University Hospital and Medical College were being planned, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Aga Khan Foundation organised an international conference in 1981 in Pakistan, on the role of hospitals in primary health care*. The conference concluded that medical training had so far been restricted to hospitals only and the link with communities, where the actual problems are, was missing. One of the key recommendations of this conference was that medical schools should establish a specific department for community health sciences and offer a community-based curriculum. Further, the department's work should be complemented with a community-based programme where students, faculty and staff could be trained in the disciplines of community health sciences and become leaders in addressing community issues in developing countries.
The conference became the basis for the establishment of the Department of Community Health Sciences (CHS) at Aga Khan University's Medical College. The Department's mandate was to help develop community-based knowledge and skills among students and prepare them for leadership roles in the planning and management of health care systems.
The Department began an ambitious Urban Health Programme (UHP) to achieve this mandate. The main emphasis of the programme was on primary health care as enshrined in the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration. The UHP presents an integrated model of health and development initiatives in poor urban squatter settlements of Karachi, and constitutes a model of good practices. Since its inception in 1983, the CHS Department has designed and established different primary health care prototypes and has tested various interventions in the urban slums of Karachi.
* WHO, UNICEF, AKF (1981) Report on International Seminar on 'Role of Hospitals in Primary Health Care' organized in Karachi, Pakistan, WHO, Geneva.