“My experience as a policy researcher has been in 3 areas – bringing my research to the table, training government ministries and technically assisting them.” Shehla Zaidi started off with a PhD in Health Policy and is now a health policy specialist. Her research is based on Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goals, Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Rate, family planning and population growth. She uses her research to design policy responses from governments, NGOs and other development agencies. Shehla has had the opportunity to conduct various trainings not just in Pakistan but internationally as well and is currently the Director of Graduate Program in Health Policy and Management at AKUH.
According to Shehla, her life is a tango, one partner is her professional life, and the other is her family life. The challenge is to make them dance together with perfect harmony. Sometimes one steals the limelight, sometimes the other. It depends on the period of her life which is more dominant. Shehla feels she has always compromised more on her career, often pushed it to low key phases when her children needed her more. “I don’t deal with patients lined up every day, my field doesn’t involve emergencies, surgeries or clinics. So, luckily, I can schedule my work as per my family’s requirements.”
Shehla’s work is very impactful and very demanding at the same time. It’s mostly people-related, so she often has to travel to rural areas and international partner countries to create awareness about various issues and collecting feedback from people receiving healthcare. With this field work she has to determine where the blockages are and whether they exist due to governance failure or lack of funds. Garnering interest and getting genuine responses is another challenge since there’s mistrust involved: “people always think you’re there for something and that you want something from them. It’s often difficult to explain we are here to help design better systems. My area involves good medicines, interventions for childcare, child growth, and nutrition to name a few. Sometimes the immediate reaction from people is that they ask us to prescribe medicines! That’s simply because of their lack of access to proper clinics and doctors.” Dealing with government institutions sometimes poses a separate set of challenges. “Unless you find the right set of people, you have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy and systems are slow-moving,” explains Shehla.
Whether it is a man or a woman, Shehla believes in the financial independence of everyone because it gives you a sense of empowerment. However, emotional independence is harder to achieve. As social beings, at some level we all are dependent on each other. In fact Shehla herself unwinds by just hanging out with her close friends and family. She hopes her mother too will make friends with life and unwind. Sharing our highs and lows with others is the best way to take care of ourselves.
Shehla’s miracle moments have been small scale, small bubbles rather than one big thing. However the one thing she’s particularly proud of is presenting her PhD degree to her grandmother. She worked exceptionally hard for this degree while taking care of a baby. Her husband was in the media and they were living abroad. Overall, it wasn’t the ideal family situation at that time for her and it was the most challenging period of her life. “I thought I would end up getting divorced or something radical, but I pulled through, got my PhD degree home to Karachi and to my grandmother who brought me up.” Indeed, Shehla Zaidi’s Miracle journey is a motivation for all young women who fear juggling so many balls at one time.