In Conversation with Dr. Samia Altaf, Professor of Practice in Public Health/Director of Campus Health and Safety
In the background of COVID-19, LUMS has walked a cautious path, placing the Community’s health and safety as its top priority. The University recently formally appointed Dr. Samia Altaf as the Professor of Practice in Public Health/Director of Campus Health and Safety.
Dr. Altaf, an internationally recognised public health physician, certified by the American Board of Public Health and Preventive Medicine joins LUMS at a very crucial time. With her combined advanced training in medicine and public health, her iconic international experience and her thorough understanding of Pakistan’s health systems, the University no doubt is in safe hands.
Dr. Altaf is an expert in designing, managing and monitoring large health services systems in the context of local challenges. She has worked in an advisory role with USAID, operated the functions of UNICEF in Pakistan and the Washington, DC, Department of Health, in the USA. Dr. Altaf has also been a consultant for the Government of Pakistan, United Nations’ Relief Agency for Palestine Territories, WHO, CIDA, and Swiss Inter-Cooperation. Additionally, she was one of the founding faculty members at the Aga Khan University Medical College, Karachi. Dr. Altaf graduated from the Fatima Jinnah Medical College, Lahore, and University of California at Berkeley. Adding to her varied interests, she is the author of, 'So Much Aid, So Little Development: Stories from Pakistan' and writes regularly for local popular press on public health issues.
How did you get interested in this position? In other words, why LUMS?
I had been invited to participate in the LUMS Health and Safety Committee set up in June. They are a smart bunch. I suppose, they thought I made sense. Why LUMS? Because it has proactively taken on itself a serious task - to find ways to keep its community safe and to provide an environment for them to be productive in these unpredictable times. It is an admirable goal that I subscribe to.
What is your vision for this role?
I am to help LUMS in its objective to build care systems to keep its population safe and protected.
How would you comment on LUMS current campus climate?
It is a lovely campus, the faculty is smart and so are the students. It’s quiet these days... people on campus have anxiety about the future and it’s a difficult time for us all. We need to pull together and be kind to each other.
What changes do you plan to bring to the LUMS environment, particularly with regard to COVID-19?
We hope to set up systems that protect the LUMS community, and mitigate against spread of infection, so that LUMS community members, especially students and faculty can thrive and be productive in a safe environment. We hope systems are stable so that the university can stay open.
How will your strong background and experience in designing, managing and monitoring large health services systems in context of local challenges impact your decisions at LUMS?
I hope I can be useful and apply experience to solve problems pertaining to health and wellbeing to those of LUMS community, in context of local challenges and constraints. I hope to help build sensible and sustainable systems.
What steps are being undertaken to move towards reopening of campus?
Very thoughtful and serious steps are being taken to reopen the campus. We are planning on a phased reopening, starting with manageable numbers of students on campus by September 15th, 2020. If we are disciplined enough and, follows SOPs and all goes well, we might be in a position to increase the subsequent number of people on campus on a rolling basis. The correct approach is to go systematically and not risk anyone’s health.
To further know her opinion on the issue, read Opening the Campus – The Twists and Turns of COVID-19.
You are a published writer. Kindly elaborate about your interests in writing.
Joan Didion, the American writer said: "We tell stories in order to live." I love stories. Sometimes when things get to be too much, life get complicated, stories help us understand and simplify the complexities and so find our way out, or find other ways to live. I love listening to people’s stories, telling stories, reading them and do attempt writing them. I wrote my book, So Much Aid, So little Development: Stories from Pakistan as stories I told my family every evening, meandering around Pakistan during the day, evaluating its health system, and listening to people’s stories about their own lives.