The Department of Paediatrics & Child Health held its 4th Annual Research Week in August with 15 diverse pre-conference workshops, an impactful inaugural session, and a full day conference. Mr Shahzad Roy, popular singer, and a social activist for children, delivered a talk on the significance of empowering children – “An enabling environment is so important for the mental and physical health of a child; teach your children that they CAN", he remarked.
The Department of Paediatrics which started as a clinical programme with service delivery at its core and training as its mission, has come a long way in its impact and delivery. It has taken on crucial issues affecting child health in LMICs and its interventions in the space of vaccination, neonatal infections, and common illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia, and have over time contributed to several milestones such as the introduction of the Hemophilus Influenza B, pneumococcal, typhoid and ROTA vaccines in The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) program. As for its potential, Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta – the Distinguished University Professor, AKU puts it best when he says, “you're only limited by your imagination".
Many people contributed to the foundation of the department as we know it today. Late Dr. Salahuddin Sheikh, set the building blocks. Dr Majeed Maula followed by Dr Ghaffar Billoo, Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta and Dr Anita Zaidi rapidly expanded subspecialty services and the number of clinical training programs. Dr Salman Kirmani established the first and only clinical genetic program in the country, cross-cutting between many of the subspecialties now being offered in the department. Community and population-based research thrived in the department, earning national and international recognition for AKU as a leading research institution for maternal and child health.
Keeping in line with its tradition of continuity, the department nurtures relationships with not only past Chairs for insights but also government and local bodies. For instance, the department runs the Karachi and Matiari community field sites, that are engaged in service delivery and research. These would not have been possible without local government buy-in and joining hands with AKDN and the government's existing programs such as the Lady Health Workers Program.
The department has so far led three sequential National Nutritional Surveys (2001, 2010 and 2018), responded to the HIV and typhoid outbreaks, and played a central role in development and training of the National COVID-19 guidelines and vaccine advocacy for children. Its past and current faculty members serve in international institutions and contribute to global guideline development, stakeholder decision making and advocacy across several themes such as global health, nutrition, environmental enteropathy, vaccine development and gender equality.
The current Chair, Dr. Fyezah Jehan is a proponent of innovation and development in answering old problems of prematurity, infant and maternal malnutrition that contribute to the major burden of morbidity in the country. She sums up by stating, “We have decades of population-based research paving way for immunization, nutrition, maternal and neonatal health, and policy making in Pakistan and internationally. This is demonstrated by the increasing value in our grants and policy impact each year.
Our annual research week this year was special because it was an internal celebration of exactly those successes and a recognition of the countless faculty, staff and teams who are the real heroes behind it. For next year, the theme will be forward looking – highlighting technological and innovative approaches to the problems that are close to us and our homes."