Given the disproportionately high rate of girls who become mothers under the age of 18 in underserved segments of society and in lower and middle income countries, adolescent and maternal well-being needs to be put at the centre of global health and development. This view was expressed by Dr Zulfiqar A. Bhutta during a recent lecture, “The Future of Maternal and Child Health: What Does it Mean for the World and Pakistan” held at Aga Khan University, where he spoke of his pursuit of improving child and maternal health in the developing world.
Dr Zulfiqar A. Bhutta is a Distinguished University Professor and the Founding Director of the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at the Aga Khan University. He also holds the Robert Harding Inaugural Chair in Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and is the co-Director of the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health.
The lecture held at AKU celebrated Dr Bhutta’s outstanding achievements in healthcare; he is the first Pakistani to win the Gairdner Global Health Award. The Gairdner Awards are among the world’s most prestigious scientific honours. He is also the first dual recipient of the AKU Distinguished Faculty Award for Research and AKU Award of Distinction. His accolades include the Global Paediatric Research Award for Outstanding Contributions to Global Child Health, the WHO Ihsan Dogramaci Family Health award and the inaugural TUBA Academy of Sciences Award for global contributions to Health and Life Sciences.
Speaking to the audience about the future of maternal and child health in the local and global context, Dr Bhutta stressed upon the health of women and children as vital to creating a healthy world and underlined the importance of research, interventions, and the changing landscape around maternal, new-born, and child health.
“Maternal and child under-nutrition are very closely intertwined,” he said, adding how critical it is to ensure accessible health care and well-being for mothers and children.
Touching upon the topic of child/young brides, he quoted a study that showed about 27% girls between the ages of 15-19 in Pakistan lose their lives because of obstetric maternal conditions. “This is why”, he emphasised, “children should not have children,” highlighting the physical and emotional plight it brings on young girls and the generations that come after them.
Dr Bhutta also paid homage to his wife and work companion, Dr Shireen Bhutta, a renowned gynaecologist, who passed away earlier this year.
He further remarked that no award or accolade can be won without collaborations and collective efforts. He expressed his gratitude to his students, fellow doctors and mentors, many of whom were part of the audience.
Dr John Dirks, President and Scientific Director Emeritus of Gairdner and former dean of Aga Khan University’s faculty of Health Sciences, was also present as a special guest at the lecture.