Monday May 27, 2024

Prof Gatrad urges govt to focus on vocational training of the poor

He has built, with his colleagues, a state-of-the-art cleft hospital in Gujrat

By Murtaza Ali Shah
May 13, 2024
Paediatrician Professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad OBE speaks to Geo News. — Reporter/File
Paediatrician Professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad OBE speaks to Geo News. — Reporter/File

LONDON: One of Britain’s senior most and respected consultant pediatricians Professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad, OBE, has called on the Government of Pakistan to empower, with vocational training, the most under-privileged children, aligning it to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As CEO of a charitable organisation working in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, Prof Abdul Rashid Gatrad has raised over £3 million for various health-related development projects around the world.

He has built, with his colleagues, a state-of-the-art cleft hospital in Gujrat. The project was completed so professionally and was so impactful that the ITV presented a 15-minute documentary on it.

All services, including the operations, are provided free, funded by mainly Muslim and Pakistani donors in the West Midlands.

Gatrad has been awarded by three universities – the University of Birmingham and the Kentucky and Wolverhampton universities with the OBE from the Queen in 2002 for services to the ethnic minority children in the Midlands and in 2014 he was made deputy lieutenant to Her Majesty the Queen for his services.

The same year, he was made Freeman of the Borough of Walsall for halving the death rate in new-born babies and for his part in the research into the Hepatitis Vaccine that was subsequently rolled out globally.

Born originally in Malawi, Africa, Dr Rashid Gatrad worked as a postman in the UK to meet his medical college fees before starting as a doctor in 1971. In 2003, Prof Gatrad met Khwaja Mohammed Aslam, a Pakistani bus driver and a businessman, who was chairman of the charitable organisation. He invited him in 2005 to be the CEO. Since then, the charity has made a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands around the world – particularly children.

At the time the charity only had £20,000 of working capital and Pakistan was the only country where humanitarian aid was provided. Since then, Rashid has sacrificed time, effort, energy and money to make MIAT truly global – now in over 20 countries.

Professor Gatrad largely financed through the charity state-of-the-art 3 storey hospital which houses, audiology, speech therapy, dental services 2 wards and 2 operating theatres. The hospital is supported by 4 doctors running round the clock operations and providing free medical aid to patients of the area, including those who travel from far and wide.

The hospital grounds have playing facilities. Then it was in 2016 when during a visit to Gujarat that he met a female teenage street beggar on crutches. She had clubbed feet that were bare and bleeding. This led to Professor Rashid Gatrad setting up the clubfoot centre where now hundreds are being treated from birth – avoiding operations when older.

He said, “I request the Government of Pakistan to pay attention to vocationally train children and youth to empower them, especially girls. This will be good for Pakistan’s long-term development. Currently, there is no focus on this area. We are prepared to work with Pakistan to support the effort. We have completed a huge maternity and a children’s hospital named after my mother Jubaida in Gujarat, Pakistan which now is dedicated to cleft operations. This hospital is a demonstration of what can be achieved. Our charity goal is to reduce poverty and improve health outcomes from sustainable projects for thousands of the most disadvantaged populations in over 20 countries across Africa and Asia.”

He said, “The Jubaida Gatrad hospital was completed in 2015 and now provides employment to many. Our charity provided medical equipment, and the hospital is attracting more and more people to Gujarat city. After I set up the club foot centre at this hospital in 2016, Ruth Lawson from the British High Commission attended its inaugural opening to witness the highly trained international cleft/clubfoot surgical team from the UK that I had assembled. The Overseas Plastic Surgery Appeal (OPSA) team of 20 strong travels twice a year to Pakistan. All give up their time free for projects in which I have led the development of a very clear and targeted model of interventions -- namely an integrated and multi-sectoral pathway of care of children that resources local healthcare capacities to screen them, and in the process provide children access to education through, for example, help with hearing and speech therapy. Now an intensive care centre is under construction, funded by us.”

The director of Deafkidz International, Steve Crump, visited the centre in 2017 and hailed it as a revolutionary set-up for a facility like that in Pakistan. Over subsequent 3 years he helped develop the audiology services.

The professor said, “Collaborating with Deafkidz International, we have screened 20,000 children with deafness, in Punjab, Pakistan. Now 20 million people in Sindh have access to this service that I helped set up and facilitated. Improving such disabilities and supporting education, particularly for girls, ensures that children take their rightful place in society and do not beg on the streets with a potential for abuse and trafficking.”

He said, “Over the last 15 years, in addition to the cleft and club foot centers, we have set up in Pakistan a breast care service for women, an artificial limb fitting centre, which houses the club foot centre named after my father Mahomed Gatrad, cataract camps, hearing services for the newborn, dental services and an outreach clinic for elderly and pregnant women in Sooklan Gujrat.”

The veteran doctor’s work extends to over 20 countries, including Somalia, Malawi, Gambia, Syria, Bangladesh, Haiti, the Dem Rep of Congo, and Nepal where he provided 1,000 huts to families with children, the elderly and the disabled, after the earthquake in 2014.

“A lot of my international work is funded from my NHS salary donated through the GAYE scheme over the last 15 years. In addition, I get strong financial support from connections with the businesspeople world-wide in countries such as Dubai, UK, S Africa etc.”

The doctor explained he had arranged over 5,000 cataract operations in Pakistan, Kashmir and Malawi; delivered over 500 cataract operations in Bangladesh; carried out 40 operations in Sierra Leone on teenage girls with vaginal fistulae; delivered food provisions, fresh water and blankets to refugees in Syria, Jordon, Kenya and Lebanon; built a 3-km fresh water pipeline in a village in Somalia; built houses in Malawi in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan after the floods and supported vocational training projects in Sierra Leone, Malawi, Turkey, India, Kashmir and Pakistan.

He added, “Over the last 10 years I have been providing two ‘Gatrad Bursaries’ per year to doctors and nurses who travel abroad to train and teach.” Professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad regularly travels to Gujarat to train and teach nurses in the care of new-born babies. He has trained more than 1,200 nurses over the last 15 years and some of the nurses he trained now work in England and Europe in the medical profession.

At 78 he is still full of enthusiasm to make a difference to the lives of the needy, Professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad plans to visit Pakistan again with a hope of meeting government officials to raise the profile for his charity’s campaign for vocational education for some of the most downtrodden sections of the society. The renowned doctor remains determined to continue as a charity worker till his last breath.