When His Highness the Aga Khan received the Archon Award from the international nursing honour society, Sigma Theta Tau International, in June of 2001, he talked about the critical role nurses and midwives played in health care. “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,” he remarked. “The way forward there was to professionalise, to institutionalise and to dignify this great profession.”
Many decades later, the nurses and midwives of Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery in Pakistan (AKU-SONAM) are being recognised internationally. Among the 100 nurses and midwives from 43 countries that were recognised for their contribution to raising healthcare standards across the globe by Women in Global Health (WGH), five faculty members and three alumni from AKU-SONAM were honoured in the 2020 list of the 100 Outstanding Women Nurses and Midwives. At the same time, three more nurses and midwives at the French Medical Institute for Women and Children (FMIC) in Afghanistan, which is managed by AKU, were also recognised, bringing the total to 11.
In making the selection, WGH collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund, Nursing Now, the International Council of Nurses and the International Confederation of Midwives. The recognition marks the end of the WHO’s yearlong Year of the Nurse and the Midwife 2020 campaign, which recognises the vital role of nurses and midwives in providing health services and in helping achieve targets under the global Sustainable Development Goals.
AKU-SONAM’s Dean Dr Rozina Karmaliani was honoured under the Board and Management category in recognition of her efforts to spearhead improvements in adolescent health, strengthen research capacities and integrate research into education and practice.
“It is an honour to be acknowledged by the international public health and nursing fraternity,” said Dean Karmaliani. “This year has been particularly challenging for healthcare providers, all of whom have showed incredible commitment in their respective roles in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Faculty members Yasmin Parpio and Samina Vertejee were recognised under the Community Hero category for their services in community health nursing, while Saima Sachwani was recognised for her contributions in developing impactful nursing curriculum under the Human Capital Development category. Nurse-midwife Marina Baig has also been lauded for leveraging mobile health technology to improve maternal health outcomes under the Innovation, Science & Health category.
Three SONAM alumni have also been recognised under the Community Hero category. They include Dr Shela Hirani for her efforts to promote, protect and support breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic, Neelam Punjani for her work in improving access to sexual and reproductive health rights and Sadaf Saleem for her contributions to geriatric nursing.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, the creation of human resources to staff the country’s health facilities led to three nurses and midwives also being recognised. At the French Medical Institue for Mothers and Children (FMIC) – managed and operated by the Aga Khan University as part of a partnership between La Chaîne de L’Espoir, the Governments of France and Afghanistan, and AKDN – Ms Shabana Halyen, Ms Marufu Muradi and Mrs Shukria Musafirsada were recognised in the categories of Human Capital Development, Community Hero and Young Midwives.
By recognising these nursing and midwifery leaders, Women in Global Health hopes that nurses and midwives take on strategic leadership positions in health facilities – that they become involved in key decisions, support diversity in recruitment strategies, reduce the gender pay gap and ensure a safe work environment.