Not a day goes by that people fail to tell me how fortunate I am to be a part of this program. I wholeheartedly agree. Experiencing the profound natural beauty of northern Punjab alongside the unwavering hospitality of southern Sindh in the span of a couple of weeks has forever altered my perception of Pakistan. Having previously only visited Karachi for family-related reasons, I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve communities across Pakistan through the distinguished National Rural Support Programme (NRSP)
After spending a couple of weeks exploring the myriad of programs that are implemented by NRSP throughout Pakistan, Akber Sheikh and I decided that we wanted to develop an understanding of infectious disease control initiatives in rural communities with a high prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. Following meetings with the appropriate health department heads, we decided to start working with NRSP’s malaria prevention and control program in the districts of Thatta and Sujawal near Karachi. I recently worked with mosquito control initiatives in Brazil following the Zika outbreak in 2015, so this program provided an ideal platform for acquiring further knowledge in relation to this significant global health concern.
Upon our arrival in Thatta, we were immediately humbled by the commitment and enthusiasm of the community health professionals. Throughout our field visit, we were able to visit rural health centers and basic health units that are providing malaria diagnosis and treatment services free-of-cost to all local patients. We also met with leadership at the district health office as well as a large tertiary care hospital to discuss the various malaria interventions that have been used over the past decade to fight malaria. Finally, we attended a few awareness sessions that discussed preventive measures that villagers should take to avoid malaria infection.
We were welcomed like family into each and every facility and village with countless offers for tea or cold drinks–a hallmark of Pakistani culture as a whole. Akber and I had decided to wear the traditional shalwar kameez throughout our field visits, and the locals truly appreciated our gesture. Before we departed from our guesthouse in Thatta, we were pleasantly surprised with a centuries-old Sindhi tradition that spans back to the time of Mohenjo-Daro: the gifting of an intricate, block-printed shawl referred to as an ajrak. I hope that the remaining part of the program continues to be as meaningful as this past couple of weeks.
Post by APF Fellow, Owais Fazal
B.A. Candidate for Social Policy Analysis and Global Health Technologies at Rice University
Placement: Malaria Prevention and Control Program
Owais has co-authored publications on the recent outbreak of the Zika virus as well as the multi-drug resistant bacteria A. baumannii. Alongside board positions on the Rice Catalyst Science Journal and the Rice Journal of Public Policy, Owais is also a key member of Team Si-Low, an award-winning group that recently designed a novel treatment for gastroschisis in Africa.