Award of Excellence in Research

Dr Anita Kaniz Mehdi Zaidi

Your Highness, Members of the Board of Trustees, Graduates, Faculty and Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Each year the University Awards Committee considers nominations for the Award of Excellence in Research, to recognise and, again, I quote “...individual research achievements and contributions (to contribute) to the development of a strong research culture at AKU.”

This year, the University has the honour of presenting the Award of Excellence in Research to Dr Anita Zaidi.

Dr Anita Zaidi is a unique individual. She received her undergraduate medical education as a member of the first graduating class at the Aga Khan University in 1988 and was the first recipient of the Medical College’s Best Graduate Award. 

After graduating, Dr Zaidi spent a year in community research work in Pakistan’s Northern Areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan). She then proceeded to the United States for further training and acquired a first-rate grounding in paediatrics, microbiology, infectious diseases and epidemiology at Duke University and Harvard University. An award from the Aga Khan Foundation and research awards from the US Paediatric Infectious Diseases Society and Harvard University supported her in this training.

In 2002, Dr Zaidi left a faculty position at Harvard to return to Pakistan and to her alma mater – Aga Khan University.

On the basis of her remarkable abilities, energy and commitment, Dr Zaidi went on to become one of the youngest full professors at AKU. In September 2010 she assumed the position of Chair of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health. In January 2011, the University awarded her an endowed Chair, the Ruby and Karim Bahudur Ali Jessani, Professor and Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Over the course of the last decade as a member of faculty AKU, Dr Zaidi has been at the forefront of world-class research. Her research projects are dedicated to defining low-cost solutions to reduce the high burden of newborn and child deaths associated with infectious diseases in the developing world. Her current research grant support exceeds US$8 million and includes, as principal or senior investigator, grants from the National Institutes of Health, USA, the World Health Organization, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, and several initiatives funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many of you will know that Dr Zaidi and her research have once again been in the news.  It was very recently announced that she was recipient of the Caplow Children’s Prize.  This research award is a $1 million grant directed to projects that are “...aimed at saving the greatest number of children’s lives in the most impactful, credible, and cost-effective way.”   Dr Zaidi was this year’s winner of this prize in a competition that saw almost 600 entries, including eight finalists.  The project associated with the award her project will focus on reducing child mortality rates in the town of Rehri Goth, on the outskirts of Karachi.

Dr Zaidi is a very well-published researcher with over 100 research papers, reviews, monographs and invited chapters to her credit. She authored the chapter on Diagnostic Microbiology in the last four editions of Nelson’s Textbook of Paediatrics, the premier reference textbook for paediatricians globally. She is the only woman from a developing country to have a chapter in Nelson’s, and only one of two developing country scientists of either gender to have this honour.

Her work on vaccine preventable infections has also been recognised at various international forums – she was invited to deliver the Fred Soper Memorial Lecture at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Philadelphia, USA, in December 2011. Dr Zaidi chose to speak about polio eradication in Pakistan, delivering such an eloquent and impassioned address that she received a standing ovation from the large audience present.

Dr Zaidi is committed to developing research capacity at AKU. Through student and faculty mentorship in the Department she has developed a solid base of young investigators that will continue to strengthen and lead the Department and AKU’s research agenda well into the future. The Department of Paediatrics and Child Health is a unique academic clinical department at AKU, with one-third of all faculty members in the research track receiving funding from competitive external sources and enjoying protected time for research.

Returning to Dr Zaidi’s graduation as a member of the first MBBS class, in a recent article in The Lancet, it is interesting to note what she remembers most about her graduation – it was something the Chancellor said at the ceremony.  His Highness’ simple message was “Serve Pakistan”.  And that's what Zaidi has tried to do in her research. 

Your Highness, I ask that you present Dr Anita Zaidi with the Aga Khan University Award of Excellence in Research.

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