Thank you very much, Dr. Thompson and Dr. Wykle, for your warm and generous words of introduction. It is an honour to have been selected as a recipient of a leadership award by such a distinguished international professional organisation working in the field of health. It is particularly meaningful to receive this recognition from Sigma Theta Tau with its record of focussed dedication to the global advancement of nursing. I have long felt the enhancement of the nursing profession to be absolutely critical to the improvement of health care in the developing world, and the Islamic world. The way forward was to professionalise, to institutionalise, and to dignify this great profession.
More than twenty-five years ago, these were some of the central concerns that led to the establishment of the Aga Khan University in Karachi and its School of Nursing. Universities have the unique capacity for forming the human resources necessary for all fields of human development. Given the state of health services in Pakistan at that time, I felt it particularly important to create an institution in the country that could offer education in the health professions at international standards. This would ensure that the teaching and research programmes would be of the highest quality, but would also be grounded in local needs and realities, and that, if properly funded and led, could make a distinctive contribution on a permanent basis. In addition, a successful national institution would have the potential to provide leadership directly and through its graduates that would be felt in the professions and also in society more generally.
The School of Nursing was the first academic programme offered by the Aga Khan University for a combination of reasons, some universal in nature, and others particular to countries like Pakistan. It is generally accepted that high quality health care, both in institutional as well as community settings, cannot be provided effectively without capable nurses to support physicians and other health professionals. But Pakistan suffers from an acute shortage of nurses. Even now, there are four physicians for every nurse whereas the international norm is at least five nurses to every physician. In addition, because women constitute an overwhelming number of nurses in the developing world, the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University felt that the School of Nursing could foster the enhancement of nurses, and women professionals more generally, empowering them, and increasing their standing and effectiveness in society.
Today, the AKU School of Nursing takes pride that:
More and more women are coming forward to join the profession. By adding programmes that lead to Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Nursing for the first time in Pakistan, the School is providing opportunities for career advancement that were out of reach for nearly everyone in the profession in the country.
The School of Nursing has become an important resource for policy dialogues with the government and the nation’s Nursing Council. It has assisted in the review and reforming of nursing policies, and the curriculum for nursing education for the country as a whole.
The School of Nursing is also in the vanguard as the Aga Khan University launches its first programmes outside Pakistan, in fulfilment of the provisions of its charter as an international university. The School is developing an initiative in Advanced Nursing Studies regionally in Eastern Africa, responding to the needs for advanced training in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.
I am particularly proud that the School of Nursing is in a position to reach out to assist professionals in other developing countries. International linkages have played a critical role in the development of many of the programmes at the Aga Khan University. In the case of the School of Nursing the most important relationship has been with McMaster University and the Canadian International Development Agency. I am certain that such linkages will continue to be important as the University matures and is in a position to increase its contributions to such relationships, in addition to being the beneficiary of them.
In this regard I believe that the establishment of the School of Nursing’s Rho Delta Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International will provide the significant and much needed impetus for strengthening the research capability and scholarly activities of the nurses at AKU and the countries it serves. The Board of Trustees, the leadership of the University and the School of Nursing, and I look forward to a very positive and productive association for all concerned. We thank you for helping us to professionalise, institutionalise, and dignify nursing in Asia and Africa.