Professor Reena Shah and her team trained medical practitioners and conducted research to push for preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus.
When COVID-19 hit Kenya’s capital Nairobi in March 2020, Professor Reena Shah, an associate professor at AKU’s Department of Internal Medicine, hit the ground running in ensuring that management of the novel virus was spot on.
Professor Reena holds a Masters in Infectious Diseases from the University of London and has worked at AKU for 20 years. She, like many other infectious disease specialists around the world, was learning about the virus and many looked to her and her team for guidance.
“Our workload spiralled when we got our first COVID-19 positive case. It was a very interesting time but I think we did well both as an infectious disease section and as the Aga Khan University Hospital. We came out as leaders in COVID management,” she said.
It wasn’t long before journalists came calling for Professor Reena seeking credible information and updates on how to prevent the spread or manage the COVID-19 virus. In between media interviews, research on the virus, caring for patients and internal updates, she managed to keep a level head amongst the chaos.
“Perseverance kept us going. We knew we had to lead from the front and that’s what we did. We’re a good team that works together, and so we managed to look after each other and our patients. Every day there was new evidence that we had to learn or keep abreast of, but we kept going. It was tough but we pulled through.”
It is this resilience that led to Professor Reena and her team being recognised as leaders in the management of COVID-19. They trained medical practitioners, conducted research and the learning never stopped as they pushed for preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus.
However, this came at a small cost, as she found herself away from her family for long periods of time, but their support and support from the University provided her comfort.
“It was total teamwork – no one could have done it alone. I’m very fortunate that I had the support and I must say that we all supported each other at work during our ups and downs. At home, my husband and children stood by my side, and never complained about anything. Even when there was no ready home cooked meal and things at home were not going as they should, nobody ever complained.”
Professor Reena believes teamwork is crucial not only in mitigating future challenges, but also in keeping mentally and physically healthy. Nothing is a one-man or one-woman show.
“As an institution, we have managed COVID-19 very well. We’ve had good practices, good guidelines and we’ve managed patients well. In the infectious diseases section, we work very well as a team. And I think that is the key for any challenge. If you can work together, and if one person burns out, somebody else can take over and you all support each other. No one person can do it alone, it has to be a whole group that works together.”
The Aga Khan University believes in the importance of gender equality and operates an equal opportunity policy in the employment of faculty and staff as well as admission to its academic programmes. Two out of three students at the University are women, one out of two senior faculty members at AKU are women while two-thirds of our graduates are women.
Professor Reena hopes to see more women take up leadership roles at AKU.
“I believe that there’s nothing a woman can be stopped from doing if she puts her mind to it. So women, if you do decide to anything, go for it! Do not let being a woman stop you from doing it. Women in this century are equal to men, in every way and for every job that is available.”