Tell us about your foray into the field of medicine. How did it all begin for you? There was a tradition on my mother’s side of the family of girls going into Medicine, including my elder sister. Moreover, there was not that much choice and well defined career paths for women, apart from Medicine; in the early 70’s. My mother had instilled in us that we must have a profession. She had been a brilliant student but with partition and uncertainty and the times, she could not follow her passions. I had also been imbued with leftist ideology in my teens and twenties and Che Guevara posters adorned my walls as an inspiration. You have served as the head of department of Infectious Diseases at Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Institute of Trauma. Tell us about your experience working there. In 2017, I joined SMBBIT within a year of its establishment. I had a choice of a good private institution but I felt that any contribution one can make in the public sector reaches more of those in need. It has been a fulfilling experience. In those that survive the initial trauma, mostly young persons who have had road traffic accidents, they then succumb to infections. So the need for good antimicrobial therapy in these patients is paramount. I am also responsible for ensuring that health care workers follow good infection control practices, something that the coronavirus has now taught us in record time. Working in a government hospital also gave me the opportunity to work with the Health Ministry and be able to advise in health policies. In 2019, I took on trainees in FCPS in Infectious Diseases, and for the first time an Infectious Diseases consultation service is available at SMBBIT and Civil Hospital Karachi. ‘The sense of belonging, support systems, feeling of community, childhood friends in Pakistan; all enticed me back. I wanted my 10-year-old son to have lifelong friends, ties to grandparents and extended family, and a strong sense of identity, all of which may have been difficult growing up in the USA’ From just myself in 2017, today there are three consultants and 4 trainees in Infectious Diseases in the Department. But the most challenging and satisfying time at SMBBIT has been the past 4 months in dealing with the COVID pandemic. In end April, we opened the COVID UNIT for higher level of care for patients with moderate, severe to critical COVID. The unit comprises of 26 ICU beds and 30 HDU beds. Within days we were full to capacity, and overflowing, and I believe that we absorbed a lot of the severely ill patients during the peak in June, taking the pressure off the ICUs in the city, and we are still admitting critical patients, though the numbers have reduced vastly. Our patients receive the standard of care for COVID including costly medications, which in most cases are provided free of cost. I’m proud of the work we have done which is a combined effort of the departments of anaesthesia and Infectious Diseases as well as the excellent nursing and paramedical staff. The government and administration were very supportive. Funds were made available that allowed renovations to be done, equipment purchased, staff hired, drugs provided. You have served both in your home country and abroad. What made you shift to Pakistan to provide your esteemed services? Basically I was homesick despite many years in the USA and returned in 2006 to Pakistan. The sense of belonging, support systems, feeling of community, childhood friends in Pakistan; all enticed me back. I wanted my 10-year-old son to have lifelong friends, ties to grandparents and extended family, and a strong sense of identity, all of which may have been difficult growing up in the USA. My parents were aging but doing well at the time so it wasn’t till a year or two later, when they began to have serious health issues, that I felt so thankful I had returned and could attend to their medical needs. I got so much valuable time with my father before he passed away. I joined Civil Hospital Karachi, then SIUT, so had the satisfaction of working in the public sector, and now SMBBIT What has been your field of specialty and why did you choose that as a career? When it came time to choose my specialization at the end of my residency program in the United States, I was at a loss. Then one day, a wonderful Serbian Infectious Diseases doctor said to me that he loves his field because if you make the right diagnosis, give the right antimicrobial at the right time, then chances are your patient will be completely recovered from the infection, so it’s mostly a happy ending. I said I loved happy endings and applied for ID fellowship programs in the USA. In February, you discussed preventive measures for coronavirus and the importance of hand hygiene. Can you elaborate on that? We all know by now the preventive measures needed to stem the spread of Coronavirus. But are we following them. There is a perception that Coronavirus has dissipated. Gone. Undoubtedly, it is much reduced. But it’s still here. Very much so. It’s still highly infectious. Still able to kill. Only last week we lost a 22-year-old boy, the age group that like to think of themselves as invincible. It is too early to take the masks off. It is still unwise to congregate, to meet persons outside of your home and select few, to disregard social distancing. It’s dangerous to forget to wash your hands. I believe that life will not return to normal till 2021. We know how the virus spreads. Let us continue to take precautions and learn to adapt to this new reality. Are you satisfied with the precautionary measures taken at hospitals where suspected patients of COVID-19 were kept? I can only speak for my hospital where we asked all healthcare workers to wear masks at all times. Hand disinfectants were made available but not nearly as abundantly as I would like. In SMBBIT, we closed down the cafeteria. We had educational programs. However, many healthcare workers who seemed to have acquired infection at the workplace, probably did so when eating and drinking together in the duty lounges. If exposed to an infected person for greater than 15 minutes at less than 6 feet distance, you stand a high chance of becoming infected. The masks must never come off outside of your home. Never. In your view, did the doctors and paramedics use the personal protective equipment affectively and responsibly while visiting and dealing with the suspected patients? Doctors and paramedics for the most part are using the personal protective equipment adequately during this pandemic. But they rely too heavily on the bunny suits when it is really how well their masks seal onto their faces, or whether the mucous membrane of their eyes is protected, or their hands have been sanitized and gloves changed enough times, that clinches the difference between staying healthy or becoming infected. Training and education on an ongoing basis is required. You have in the past rejected claims that the virus spread because of consuming bat meat. What do you think could have been the original source? I cannot say what the original source of the virus is. I do know that the emergence of this pandemic directly correlates to how we are violating the planet. Deforestation, unbridled consumption and illegal trading of animals and birds, areas of overcrowding, poor sanitation, substandard healthcare and low levels of education are all factors that SARS 2 coronavirus is exploiting. I don’t think it could have gained a foothold if all human beings were equal, the resources of the planet shared, and all living beings were respected. After all, we belong to the earth. It does not belong to us. You have been chosen as one of the council members of PMDC by Dr Arif Alvi. What are some of your roles and duties under the council? I had served as one of the Council members in the PMDC. But that was dissolved in 2019 so I am no longer in the PMDC. You have led a three-member technical team assisting the JIT investigating Dr Muzaffar Ghangro. Tell us about that. The investigation of Dr Ghangro only confirmed my view that no one doctor can be blamed for HIV in over 1000 children in Ratodero Sindh. Many of those children had not even been in his care. His practices and flagrant disregard for correct Infection Control practices was in no way unique to him. Throughout Pakistan, healthcare workers either do not know or care to adhere to needle safety guidelines. Blood transfusion safety is not guaranteed. Hand disinfectants or soap and water are not to be found, though maybe COVID has changed that as healthcare workers now fear for themselves. Most importantly, there is no accountability in our healthcare system and there are generally no consequences to providing substandard and unhygienic treatment to disenfranchised patients. What according to you has been your biggest achievement to date? It’s hard to point to one thing in my life and label it as the biggest achievement. Now, in my 60s, when I look back, I feel that I like the general direction my life has taken over the years. Without ever really planning it, I seem to have contributed more of my life to the public sector while in Pakistan. For me, an achievement is when you introduce systems that endure, rather than policies made on the spot in response to crises. I am proud of the Infectious Diseases trainees that I have supervised. I contributed to the understanding and management of HIV when it first came to Pakistan in the 1990s and now I have been immersed in the Coronavirus situation in the country and feel that they both represent achievements that I can feel good about. What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you? I hope that in Pakistan we can minimise the huge disparities and injustices that exist. That one day we can all live as one people, preserving our amazing natural wealth and respecting and cherishing the diversity of cultures, languages and faiths in our great nation. We at Daily Times consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours? Please I do not like being considered a hero. And I hope you will not say so in your article. No one person can achieve anything without the support of many dedicated persons behind them. I would also not be so presumptuous as to put myself in the category of people who have made achievements despite enduring far greater obstacles in life than myself, or dedicated themselves to a cause, and even given their lives for such. Pakistan has many such wonderful people. I think I have been privileged to have had supporting parents, and the opportunity to study Medicine, and I can continue to work towards betterment and a more just healthcare system in Pakistan. Achievement INTERNATIONALLY TRAINED Dr Shehla Baqi is immensely talented and has studied from and been trained abroad in a number of specialised courses which adds to her brilliant portfolio. HELM OF AFFAIRS Dr Baqi is a professor and head of Infectious Diseases Department at Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Institute of Trauma. In 2019, she took on trainees in FCPS in Infectious Diseases and for the first time an Infectious Diseases consultation service was available at SMBBIT and Civil Hospital Karachi. DISTINGUISHED DOCTOR Dr Baqi has served as one of the Council members in the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council chosen by President Dr Arif Alvi. ERADICATING HIV AND COVID-19 Dr Baqi is proud of the Infectious Diseases trainees that she supervised. She contributed to the understanding and management of HIV when it first came to Pakistan in the 1990s and now she has been immersed in the coronavirus situation in the country and feels that they both represent achievements that she can feel good about.