When you help a sick child get better, and you see a smile come back to a mother’s face, it is very rewarding.
Dr Saiful, 46 (Amman, Jordan)
Saiful began his career as a medical doctor treating malnourished children in Bangladesh. As a young doctor working in the underdeveloped neighbourhoods of Dhaka, he saw hundreds of children who were malnourished. But he noticed the exceptions, too.
“When you see one healthy child in a sea of underfed, the difference is usually an educated parent,” he said. A mother who makes sure her child eats a balanced diet, with vegetables, even if they don’t have any more money than all those unhealthy children around them. We call that a positive deviant.”
Direct contact with the sick, and using basic medical care to heal them, defined his worldview. He is an optimist. Where others see disaster, he sees possibilities.
“If you can get that mother to explain to other mothers what to do, it’s peer education, and much more effective than having a doctor show them flip charts and talk to them in language they don’t understand.” Dr. Saiful left Bangladesh to study public health, and then put his learning into practice in Sierra Leone, Darfur, Thailand, and Armenia.
“You have to find solutions that work. The simpler the better.”
Now working with the International Organization of Migration in Jordan, Dr. Saiful helps design and coordinate programs to treat displaced people and refugees. In refugee camps with thousands of people who fled civil war in Syria, he feels compassion for the highly challenging situations they face. “People here are facing life and death issues,” he said. This leads many patients to a passive acceptance of the tragic circumstances they face.
“It’s good that they don’t blame themselves, but it inhibits them from finding a way out. If you can show them how to look at a situation and figure out a solution, they can improve their lives and more important, realize that progress really is possible if you apply yourself.” As a medical doctor, he relies on science to find solutions. He points out that the plague was devastating, and then it was stopped. Polio was devastating, and then it is was stopped. Tuberculosis is still devastating, but it can be stopped.
“It is entirely preventable.”