Born in Pakistan and educated at the University of Washington from 1996-1998, Dr. Rana Jawad Asghar has carved an impressive career in global health. Stints at UW (where he earned a Master’s in Public Health), Stanford, and University of Bristol preceded several jobs across the globe, spanning from Mozambique to Atlanta, Georgia. Today, Asghar serves as the CEO of Global Health Strategists & Implementers, a consulting firm focused on improving the global population’s health. Dr. Asghar will be back on campus on Thursday, May 9 for a lecture titled Leading Pakistan’s New Wave of Disease Hunters. The event is slated for 1:00 p.m. at Turner Auditorium in the Magnuson Health Sciences Center. This lecture is free to attend and is part of the Department of Global Health’s Career Week.
Q: What are some of the biggest takeaways from your time at UW that have stuck with you today?
A: Our professors were really world-class. I remember one of our professors said “You are not in a country to help them, you are there to assist them. Just that change of one word – a small word – matters. I have relayed these things many times to my students. I remember one time when I was a student we were divided into teams for group work. We said, “Instead of this group, we want to work with our friends, because it’s easier for us.” The professor said, “In your life, you’re going to go to a country and work with a team you’ve never met before, or you’re not going to see them later. In one week or two weeks you’ll have to finish a project, so you need to also learn with those people who are not like you.” I think these lessons and small tips helped me in my career.
Q: What advice would you give to current UW students hoping to follow a similar path to yours?
A: I would tell them that they are at a great university, and when you come to a great university learning does not happen only in class or in books. They need to go beyond their required courses and benefit from all the rich offerings UW provides. That helps you when you go into the field because you have a much bigger perspective on life. To give you an example, when I was at the University of Washington I took classes in astronomy, computer languages, and social work which were not required. I would go to all the seminars. It’s important that you enrich yourself with what the university is offering.
Q: What did your career path look like after UW?
A: From the University of Washington I moved to Stanford University. I was a research associate in the Department of Infectious Diseases for the next two years, and then became part of the faculty at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They had a new malaria program and were the first institution to get a $40 million grant from the Gates Foundation to set up training programs in African countries.
From there I moved to Pakistan, stayed there for a while, and then the University of Washington selected me as the program manager for Health Alliance International in Mozambique. While I was in Mozambique I applied for the famous Epidemic Intelligence Service program, and I was the fourth Pakistani in the 60-year history to be selected in this very competitive program. So I spent two years doing that in Atlanta, and then they wanted to create a similar program in Pakistan. When I got that job I moved back to Pakistan and set up the program there. For the next 12 years I took it from a training program to a program which is helping critically in polio education in most high-risk areas. Now I have set up my own consulting company, Global Health Strategists & Implementers (GHSI).
Q: What would you consider the highlight of your career thus far, or the most rewarding thing you’ve done?
A: There are a couple of things I’m very happy about. My recent work was supposed to just be training programs, but I felt the need to create more than a training program. These people need more than a training program. They need to have a disease response system, and even though that was not our main focus, I basically expanded my scope of work and now Pakistan is the only country in the eastern Mediterranean region with a program that is generating weekly epidemic intelligence reports. So, that’s something very rewarding coming from Pakistan. Outbreak detection time has been reduced in Pakistan. We have achieved certain landmarks. I’m happy about all those things we’ve done in our recent past.