Published: 23rd April 2021
Meet Dr Shahwar Kazmi, who never let his humble beginnings stop him from achieving his medical dreams
Dr Shahwar Kazmi has volunteered with Doctors Without Borders to help HIV patients with Kala Azar. He also researched with WHO and ICMR and it's far from over
When we were finally able to get in touch with Dr Shahwar Kazmi after a period of weeks, the busy doctor told us why we couldn't catch up earlier. He is currently working with the World Health Organisation as part of an immunisation programme in Bihar. "Since COVID-19 is the priority right now, I'm working closely with the district health authorities to find out where most of the cases are being reported from and what control measures can be imposed," he says.
An MBBS graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, Dr Kazmi's desire to work in public health has taken him to the United Kingdom, where he pursued his Master's degree on the subject from the University of Sheffield. "Right after my graduation, I realised that I wanted to play a more active role in decision and policymaking. My seniors advised me to pursue a degree in Public Health from abroad and The UK had some great schools for studying the subject. These schools were ranked higher in almost all the annual rankings released worldwide and that's when I decided to study at one of them," says Dr Kazmi.
Volunteering and research
After applying to two universities, he finally chose the University of Sheffield when he received the Commonwealth Scholarship to go study there. "The experience was completely different. Universities abroad focus on research-based teaching and solving real-world problems, which is unlike how things are taught here," he says. After completing his Master's in 2016, Dr Kazmi also embarked on a diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the Royal College of Physicians in London in 2017. It was shortly after that he began working with Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders as a volunteer.
It was during his time with Doctors Without Borders that Dr Kazmi engaged in some groundbreaking research. "Doctors Without Borders was researching HIV positive, immuno-compromised patients with Kala Azar (Black Fever). They wanted to reduce the period of treatment from 40 days to 14 days and I led the team in Bihar as the site lead. The method of giving a combination of drugs instead of a single one is now an accepted standard treatment procedure by the WHO to treat Kala Azar. This research was carried out in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)," explains Dr Kazmi. After clinical trials spanning three years, he has already submitted the findings to various international journals and hopes that it will be published soon.
Besides working for HIV patients with Kala Azar, Dr Kazmi also worked to shorten the treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis. "The current method of treatment is anything between 18 months to two years and has multiple side-effects. But through our research in Belarus and Uzbekistan, we are trying to bring down the treatment to six months with minimal side effects. The efficacy of this new treatment is over 95% and we are hoping to be approved by WHO soon," says the 35-year-old.
Getting to Sheffield
Hailing from a middle-class family in Patna, Dr Kazmi is a son of a Bihar government employee. Like several others, he too could only dream about studying abroad. But how did he make it happen? He says, "I was confident about my merit and I knew that I wanted to get a scholarship to study rather than take out a bank loan. I never wanted to add to my burden after graduation." After researching online, Dr Kazmi came up with a long list of scholarships he could apply for. "The key is to apply to as many scholarships, full and partial, as you can and not depend on just the one. The application should be prepared meticulously, pertaining to the requirements of the scholarship committee and your own vision," advises Dr Kazmi. He took the IELTS exams with the help of the British Council, with whom he remains in touch to date.
Dr Kazmi is the second of four brothers and one sister. He says that his move to study in the UK was his first international travel. During his time at the University of Sheffield, Dr Kazmi also worked on a dissertation as part of his course. "It was on breastfeeding. To collect data, I had come down to Bihar and interviewed over 300 mothers in the urban slums to check whether these women are breastfeeding their newborns for six months and understand why they were doing or not doing it," he says.
Even during his time at Aligarh Muslim University, Dr Kazmi had to largely depend on local scholarships to buy books and other material. "My father had to struggle a lot to get all of us through college. He taught me the value of honesty, hard work and the importance of education. It is also his teachings of helping your own society and the message of the Commonwealth Scholarship to give back to your own country that led me back to India after my education," he says. Dr Kazmi continues to be a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders.