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Global Feminist Profile: Dr. Shershah Syed

July 20, 2009

Global Feminist Profiles highlights feminist leaders all over the world who are creating change and empowering their countrywomen to demand equality. GFPs run on the third Monday of each month. This month’s profile is on Dr. Shershah Syed, an ob-gyn who devotes his practice to helping underserved women in Pakistan.

People in the West are properly outraged by Taliban oppression of women in parts of Pakistan. But some of the greatest suffering of women here isn’t political or religious. It comes simply from the inattention to maternal health care. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times

(Emphasis: mine).

Dr. Shershah Syed

Dr. Shershah Syed

Many women in Pakistan die during childbirth (a woman dies every 35 minutes from pregnancy or childbirth, according to the United Nations). This is because of the lack of and access to good healthcare in Pakistan.

Dr. Shershah Syed is a Pakistani ob-gyn who originally, after being educated in Ireland for eight years, set up a fertility clinic for rich patients. But after witnessing several women dying unnecessarily from childbirth, he decided to devote his practice elsewhere.

This is simpler than an atomic bomb. We have an atomic bomb, but we haven’t done this because the government isn’t interested. The day the government decides it doesn’t want maternal deaths, we will have no more mothers dying. -Dr. Shershah Syed, speaking of improving maternal health

Dr. Syed has now devoted his career to helping underserved women, such as Ashrafi Akbar, who came to see the doctor to repair her fistula (click here for more info about fistulae). Her story is below:

Ashrafi Akbar tried to deliver at home with the help of an untrained birth attendant. But her pelvis wasn’t big enough to accommodate the baby’s head, so four exhausting days of labor produced nothing.Finally, the family took Ashrafi to a clinic, and the baby was delivered dead. Then she found that she was dribbling urine and stool through her vagina. She smelled, and the salts in her urine left sores on her thighs.

Ashrafi had heard that doctors in Karachi might be able to cure her, and she asked if someone could take her. Instead, Ashrafi’s husband divorced her. Embarrassed and humiliated, Ashrafi fell into a deep depression. She locked herself up in her parents’ home and refused to see anyone.

Thirteen years passed. Ashrafi says she didn’t leave the house once. I asked her, and a cousin of hers whom I reached by telephone, how she spent her days. The answer: sewing, caring for her sick mother — and crying.

Finally, she prevailed upon her brothers to take her to Karachi, where she was examined by Dr. Shershah….Her case turned out to require a series of operations because of the long wait. But after six months of surgeries, she should be repaired and ready to go home by the end of this month. -Nicholas D. Kristof, the New York Times

Dr. Syed is the president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan—but despite being one of the country’s well-known doctors, he has been pushed out of his job for lack of resources (that would be “better spent on atomic weapons or F-16s” Dr. Syed says). Nine years ago, with the help of the government, Dr. Syed started a maternity wing at a public hospital in Orangi, one of the poorest parts of Pakistan. He is also trying to build another maternity hospital at a former madrassa in Karachi, where he’d like to repair fistulae free of charge and properly train midwives.

Dr. Shah’s service to women’s health in Pakistan is paramount, but also is one of the many doctors around the world who are helping to improve women’s healthcare, specifically in places where they are most needed.

You can read more about Dr. Shershah Syed here and here.

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Do you have your own ideas for who should be the next month’s Global Feminist? Email genderacrossborders@gmail.com for your suggestions. Thanks in advance!

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