The most recent TKN volunteers to visit The Aga Khan Medical Centre in Gilgit are Shabir and Salma Somani. The Somanis live in Seattle, USA, and are passionate about giving back to the Jamat. They travelled to the remote mountains and valleys of Northern Pakistan to improve pharmacy services in the region.

The Aga Khan Medical Centre in Gilgit is one of the major hospitals in Gilgit-Baltistan – a region with some of the most remote valleys in Pakistan. It was conceived as a state of the art health facility by the Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS) in Pakistan to provide people in the area access to specialised secondary care – services that they previously had to travel long distances for, spending precious time and resources in the process. 

The medical centre was inaugurated in 2016 by Princess Zahra and Prince Rahim.

The centre plays a vital role in the network of AKHS facilities, acting as a hub to which smaller facilities refer patients or connect with doctors remotely to provide tele-consultations. In line with AKHS’s philosophy of continuous learning and improvement, the medical centre has engaged several TKN volunteers over recent years and benefited from their wealth of expertise. 

Examples include Three Canadian TKN health care professionals make key impact at AKHS Pakistan facilities and PCR testing and vaccinations come to Gilgit. Thanks to the TKN endeavour, AKHS has access to global subject matter experts and pioneering researchers in diverse areas of healthcare.

Shabir was associate dean and is currently clinical professor at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy in Seattle. He has also served as the chief pharmacy officer at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine for over twenty years. His expertise is in pharmacy leadership, hospital systems, and hospital service enhancements.

Salma worked at Evergreen Hospital, a community hospital in Kirkland, Washington, as a pharmacist provider and offered anticoagulation and medication management services for the pharmacy provider service clinic patients. She continues her faculty appointment as clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy.

Between them, Shabir and Salma have many years of experience working in pharmacy, in both retail and hospital settings, as well as in academic teaching hospitals and have held academic faculty positions for several years.

This was their first international TKN assignment and their experience has been very positive. The assignment’s main focus was to observe and review the current pharmacy services at the medical centre and make recommendations for changes to future services, so that in time, the centre’s pharmacy services are up to international standards. Both Salma and Shabir hope that AKHS eventually becomes a leader in providing safe, effective, and cost-efficient pharmaceutical care to all patients.

Reflecting about their time in Gilgit-Baltistan, the Somanis were struck by its remoteness and beauty. They were also humbled by the friendliness, positive attitudes, willingness to learn, and hospitality of the people.

Speaking about the services provided by AKHS in Gilgit-Baltistan, Shabir remarked: “AKHS is playing a vital role in working to improve the health of the community. While it is still growing and improving, AKHS has made tremendous progress and is a healthcare gem in Pakistan.”

Travelling to and spending time in an area far away from one’s home is always challenging — daunting even — but it comes with the territory of being an international TKN volunteer. Some of the challenges faced by the Somanis included communication issues, since they are not very conversant in Urdu, and financial and operational constraints of the health facility.

They feel that although pharmacy services still need some catching up to be where they should be, the goal is to lay a strong foundation to accelerate progress towards contemporary pharmacy services and practices, with the help of the best expertise from around the world.

“AKDN is doing incredible work,” they said. “We have been able to see first-hand the fruits of our contributions to AKDN. The work being done is very satisfying and humbling.”

AKHS is immensely grateful to the Somanis for travelling to Pakistan for this assignment and for their exemplary TKN contribution.