The Institute of Child Health (ICH) and Shishu Sasthaya Foundation Bangladesh (SSFB) at Mirpur, Dhaka set up by National Professor Dr M.R. Khan, under the aegis of Shishu Sasthaya Foundation, is an epoch-making initiative in the healthcare sector of the country.
August 01 is observed as Child Service Day, coinciding with the birthday of Prof M. R. Khan. Born in 1928, he breathed his last on November 05, 2016.
On his birth and death anniversaries, members of the Shishu Sasthaya Foundation take a fresh vow to set themselves on a roller-coaster path with the singular mission to serve the distressed children of the country. It is true that at a time when the collapsing public healthcare system has created a despondency in public mind and the country has seen an abundance of' private hospitals largely unregulated and having, little accountability, the ICH and SSFB have remained outstanding exceptions. A visionary in the child health sector, National Prof. M. R. Khan experimented on alleviating the distress and suffering of the poor children.
Even at 88, Prof. M. R. Khan was agile and indefatigable. His involvement with life and society was total. One could see in utter amazement the humility, the simplicity and optimism that he exhibited even before his death. Always he had enormous appetite for hard work, ability to tackle difficult issues and a gift of striking a rapport with the society at large. He was a tireless worker but his was not a quiet and unhurried life. Founded in January, 1983 with Professor Khan as its chairman, the SSFB worked for health, nutrition, education, environment and even micro-credit facilities through its 12 programmed areas in Dhaka, Tangail, Gaibandha and Satkhira. The programme included a myriad activities aimed at reduction of morbidity and mortality of mothers and children.
The programme also includes human resource development, health and nutrition with special emphasis mother and child healthcare clinic service, door to door service for the underprivileged and disadvantaged children in the evening hours without hampering their economic contribution to the family.
It is undeniable that Bangladesh faces enormous challenges in the field of child protection and childcare. The hard reality for millions of children is that these unfortunate groups besides falling prey to diseases and malnutrition also become victims of trafficking, exploitation and violence. Professor Khan realised that changes are possible with mobilisation of the society as a whole. He felt it is better we stop focusing on contraceptive targets and instead concentrate on improving reproductive and child healthcare facilities.
Ensuring quality healthcare to mothers and children in the poorer communities has been a major concern in Bangladesh for long. This is especially so because 70 per cent of the population are either children under 15 years (50 per cent) or women of reproductive age (20 per cent). High mortality, ill health and malnutrition in children have posed severe threat to national development. This disappointing situation is the result of' acute shortage of personnel with adequate preventive and clinical skills.
Admittedly, Shishu Sasthya Foundation at Mirpur, Dhaka and its ancillary establishment like ICH at Tangail, Gaibandha and Satkhira hold hope to serve as national level training centres for health and nutrition of children and mothers. Importantly, Prof. M.R Khan and Anwara Khaum (his wife) Trust established this Foundation. He donated land, money to construct a children hospital at Satkhria and a high school at his ancestral land at Rasulpur, Satkhria. One can now hope that the affluent section of the society in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi diasporas abroad come forward and contribute to such private sector charitable health services built to ameliorate the sufferings of` the vulnerable section of the society.
It may be mentioned that it was at the Cairo International Conference on population and Development in 1994 that countries decided to move away from demographic targets and concentrate on quality healthcare. The rational was that if the mother and child were well looked after, the birth rate would decline. It is worth mentioning here that in Tamil Nadu, India after drive to improve healthcare and nutrition facilities in the 80s, birth rate fell from 32 per thousands to around 24 now.
Prof. M R Khan used to move from one hospital to another from morning to evening looking after patients, teaching students and providing guidance to the doctors. As an honorary visiting Professor he was associated with most of the national institutes and medical colleges besides his own general and corporate hospital Central Hospital at Dhanmondi, ICH and SSFB at Mirpur.
As a physician and a social worker Professor Khan won numerous laurels in recognition of his untiring contribution to the society in his eventful life, but he still thought he had miles to go. For his outstanding contribution in the field of child health, his biography was included in the International "WHO's Who" of intellectuals by IBC Cambridge, UK in 1987. Called as the father of paediatrics and "Shishu Bandhu" in Bangladesh, Prof. Khan was awarded gold medal by the Association of Paediatrics, Manila (1991), Sher-E-Bangla Jatiya Smriti Sangsad Gold Medel (1992), Kabi Nazrul Islam National Award and Gold Medel (1993), Maulana Tarkabgish Gold Medal (2003), Maulana Bhashani Gold Medal (1993), Bangladesh Paediatrics Association Award and Gold Medel (1994). He won numerous laurels for his outstanding accomplishments in the arena of child healthcare. He was honoured by the government as National Professor in 1995. He was awarded the Ekushey Padak in Social Service in 2009 and Swadhinata Padak in 2016-the highest state honours.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Secretary and Chairman NBR , currently Chief Coordinator of the Diabeitc Association of Bangladesh.