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Alumni Dispatches

Adnan Hyder


A Survey, a Cave and a Discoveryadnan hyder

I trembled as I walked down the mountain–my usual controlled self could not contain the emotions sweeping my body–trembling limbs, breathing heavily, misty eyes all accompanied me for the next mile as I hiked back to our camp. I had just administered a health and demographic survey to a family of eight living in a cave on a mountain in Northern Pakistan. The year was 1986, not 1786 or 1886, but in the 20th century when people in the same country were living in glorious estates, farmhouses, residences, apartments, and even huts—but not caves. Caves? I would not have believed and could not: a father barely able to feed his children; a mother who had been pregnant 12 times and had already lost 6 of her children; and six malnourished children who ran around the mountain barely clothed. Disgust at this lack of responsibility by the state; outrage at the injustice suffered by this family; deep shame at the thought of how my life compared with theirs—all these things raged through my mind.

I was a young physician-in-training in Karachi, Pakistan, and this experience has remained with me for the past 23 years, as if I was there yesterday. A defining moment that forever captured me with that eternal question of inquiry—why? Why does the government allow this? Why does society allow fellow human beings to suffer so much? Why does the health sector ignore these people? And thus started the two streams of influence in my professional career: a concern for the health of populations; and a process of inquiry. This truly was the start of my search for a career that builds on my medical knowledge and yet focuses on where diseases originate; that looks at symptoms but seeks the source of ill health; and that considers not only individuals but their relationships and context. Public health answered the call for me—and the path of knowledge and discovery within the reality of human life opens each day as I work.

Most importantly this has made me realize the importance of developing the capacity of those interested in pursuing the same path, of making sure that others who seek their calling in public health get a warm response. That is why education and training are a core aspect of all my projects: helping colleagues do research; assisting them as they write their results; and supporting their careers, especially in the developing world. And yet what some of them do not understand is that I learn more from them; each interaction is a case study—some more technical and others more managerial, but all fascinating.

Adnan Hyder is an associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School, as well as the director of the School’s International Injury Research Unit.

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  • David Bishai

    Baltimore 11/20/2009 05:46:27 PM

    Thank you for such a powerful essay. These early "Siddharta" experiences continue to change lives and ennoble the highest parts of our nature.

  • David Bishai

    Baltimore 11/21/2009 02:10:27 PM

    These "Siddharta" moments are a great example of the nobility of the human soul. What we make of them can enrich the fabric of civilization

  • Shariful Islam

    Dhaka, Bangladesh 07/13/2012 10:53:53 AM

    This is really an inspiring story which will keep us motivated to find out the risk factors and root causes of ill health globally.

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