Nabeela Ali, MD, joined JSI in 2004 and is now leading her third consecutive maternal, newborn and child health project in Pakistan.
In 2004 JSI started Pakistan Initiative for Mothers and Newborns (PAIMAN) project. The project was in all four provinces and in FATA. It was a unique project as it came at a time when Pakistan was facing security challenges and in some project districts war like situation. Despite all odds the project was able to reduce neonatal mortality by 23% the indicator that was static for the last three decades.
After successful completion of PAIMAN in 2010, JSI was asked to provide technical assistance to Government of Sindh and to USAID. The project was called Technical Assistance Unit for Health. Pakistan through 18th Amendment to its Constitution devolved health and several other sectors responsibility to the provinces. TAUH provided technical assistance to MOH to streamline the process at Federal level and provided support to the province for their readiness to take additional responsibility.
In 2013, soon after the TAUH project came to an end JSI through competitive bidding was awarded the Health Systems Strengthening Component of USAID MCH Program. The project is working closely with DOH Sindh and USAID other implementing partners. JSI has introduced health systems strengthening package. All 23 districts of Sindh have a district profile, district action plan and district specific budget. JSI and our partners are working to increasing transparency in Pakistan’s public health system. We are working to address governance issues and improve coverage, equity, and quality of services through building capacity of DOH at individual, institutional and systems level. We are also advocating for increased funding for health, particularly for services for women and children.
“The work that I do … has given thousands of women the ability to facilitate safe births”
You are trained as an OBGYN. What prompted you to move into public health?
My original plan was to become a surgeon, but after I started a family I realized that would be too time consuming so I became an obstetrician/gynecologist. I served 9 years at a rural health post. The conditions and lack of services were extremely dire. I realized I could make more of a difference at the policy level so I went to Johns Hopkins and got a Masters in Public Health.
Do you miss practicing medicine?
I don’t miss it; as I find public health to be tremendously rewarding. And the work that I do now has given thousands of women the ability to facilitate safe births!
That’s true and an important way to look at it. How did your family adjust to your demanding work/travel schedule when you joined JSI?
My husband and children have always supported my work. The children were already school-age when I started working full time. Now they are grown and have completed their studies. JSI encourages a work/family balance, and that is so important. I try not to work at home, although I am addicted to my iPhone, and my staff can reach me after hours in emergencies.
You recently met with the leading political candidates in Pakistan. What happened?
During the three months before the Pakistani general election, which was held on May 11th, we met with each of the five mainstream political parties to discuss women’s health and implore them to increase funding for it. We also requested that they address governance issues, especially zero tolerance for corruption. All agreed and reflected that in their health manifestos. We have recently concluded a study on manifesto’s of successful parties and its implementation a year post elections. It is interesting to know that there is hardly any connection with manifestos prior to elections and what the actual situation is.
Was it difficult to gain an audience with them?
Not really. The pre-election dialogue was designed in a way that a renowned TV anchor person was facilitating the process. And before elections politicians are receptive and were willing to participate in a dialogue with organizations like JSI and USAID that are working hard to improve services for society!
If and when you retire, what would you like to do?
I will help with my husband’s nonprofit agency, which implements social programs in Pakistan. I’d like to go to Rome, and I’d like to return to Turkey. But I will never retire my passion for women’s health in Pakistan.