There is a bit less women's participation in scientific research in Bangladesh.
Women have some other social liabilities regardless of their jobs. They have to play different roles at their jobs and at home. We start our day at home and spend the last part of the day with our families. Therefore, women have to fulfil their responsibilities in the family.
In this context, how flexible or tolerant the environment of the organisation is for women is also important. The One or one and a half years after having a child is a very important time in a woman's life. At this time it becomes difficult to do research work along with raising children, due to which many fall behind. At this time they need to have flexible working hours and arrangements to keep their children with them at work. Our organisation has ensured such an environment.
The idea that history or literature is more appropriate for women, not science or technology, still exists in our society today. However, these ideas are changing, but it still largely depends on family preference. Besides, institutional opportunities for scientific research are also very limited.
The physicians or the people who have completed Masters have an opportunity to do MPH where the research is conducted only for a degree. The scope for actual research using that knowledge is very limited.
In this case, government as well as private initiatives are needed. Physicians in our country do not get enough opportunities to conducting research regardless of their gender. They spend most of their time serving the patients though our hospitals are like rich mines of research. If there were advanced infrastructural facilities for advanced scientific activities at the hospitals, the physicians could have taken the privilege of conducting research at their workplaces.
Wherever there is science education, there should be scope of further developing skills and continuous training. Research should be conducted in line with the needs of the country which needs substantial funds. And commitment at the policy-making level of the government is needed to ensure long term arrangement for those substantial funds.
I want to tell the female scientists that they have to respect their own profession. They have to value themselves. They have to make people understand the importance of their job, which is applicable to both their families and workplace. Another thing is they have to develop a mindset to work in collaboration with the skilled scientists at home and abroad.
What sorts of challenges have you faced at your workplace?
I decided to work on public health related issues even before completing my internship. That was in1994. Back then, the issue of public health was extremely neglected. As a result, my family opposed my decision. But I was firm on my decision.
Working as a new researcher I found that I have no role in the analysis of the data I had collected. Then I found that it was not possible without completing MPH (masters of public health). I completed my MPH from Johns Hopkins University and got the chance to work as chief researcher. But to conduct the research, I needed to raise the funds for the research on my own. Later, I found that having a PhD ensures a lot of privileges. Then I completed my PhD as well. In this way, I tried to achieve every skill required for my work which needed endless patience and self-confidence. And it is not possible for anyone, male or female, to do that without cooperation from family or the institution. But I have learnt the most from my senior colleagues.
What are your future plans?
There are ample facilities in the public health services for children up to five years of age, which is absent in case of school children and youth. Again, our public health service is comparatively more easily available for the adults than the elderly ones. I am working on the physical and mental health of people of these two age groups. I am developing a model to make the health services easier and affordable for them. Besides, I am planning to develop an infrastructure for collecting data from entire Asia through research, which will play a significant role in providing early indications in case of an epidemic or any other significant health related issues and necessary instructions to contain the problem. For this, I have taken up a five-year plan in collaboration with Oxford University. The work on this project will start very soon.
At the same time, I am also starting new research this year on developing an effective primary health care system for non-infectious diseases, including high blood pressure and reducing effects of water salinity as a result of climate change.
*This interview appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu