No children with surgical problems will be left untreated, with this vision professor Tahmina Banu have been helping hundreds of children with birth defects so that they lived normal life for the last 30 years.
She is a foreign faculty at Oxford University, currently working as director of Chittagong Research Institute for Children Surgery, CRICS in short, an institution she helped gave shape to in 2017.
Professor Tahmina is one of the pioneer paediatric surgeons in Bangladesh. She served as chairman of Department of Paediatric Surgery at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, or CMCH, for more than two decades.
The history of the Department of Paediatric Surgery at CMCH is an inspiring one as this doctor’s story of success of overcoming all odds occupies a special niche. Rising above bureaucratic tangle, limited resources, prevailing male chauvinism, she crossed all the hurdles that came in her way.
She said, ‘At the very beginning it was not so easy. There was a stereotype I had to fight, a mindset that failed to see a woman in the role of a surgeon. While her male colleagues were still wondering why a separate department is needed for paediatric surgery as there was already a separate department for surgery, she was intent on continuing with her goal to establish one.
‘I used to ask for things needed for the new department — instrument, manpower, medicine, beds etc. My focus was to serve patients and to provide them health care. So, I never gave up. I was devoted to my work,’ said the famous surgeon.
‘I always love to take challenges. Even I love to deal with difficult patients,’ she conceded.
There were many talented woman doctors who had potentials to become surgeons but due to lack of family support they failed to flourish. I was blessed because I had a supportive family, she said.
Her message to her fellows is loud and clear enough: ‘First of all ask yourself what you want to be. The second question should be, are you prepared to work in an adverse situation! Then buckle up for the battle since this is not the end of the journey. If you want to be a doctor you must have the vision to do good for the patients.’
After securing your desired position or a job, she suggests, one must work harder to develop expertise to prove that one’s worth.
It was September 1993, one day parents of a new born came to me. The child had exomphalos, a rare abdominal wall defect in which intestine, liver and other organs remain outside of the abdomen. I did the surgery. It was the first exomphalos patient of Bangladesh who survived. Years after, he came to meet me. He is now 6-feet tall, a strapping young man living a normal life.
With the blessings of the Almighty, I achieved this skill. ‘Really, all are not blessed to have such skill. This feeling also gives me mental strength,’ she added.
Tahmina was born in 1958 in Chattogram city. She is an alumna of Dr Khastagir Government High School, Chittagong College, Chittagong Medical College and trained as a paediatric surgeon in Dhaka, Australia, and the
Tahmina did her post graduation (MS Paediatric Surgery) from BICH, Dhaka. She is a fellow of Royal College of Surgeons and Rowan Nicks fellow of Royal Australian College of Surgeons.
‘After the surgery, when children smile, move around me, try to come closer to me — I feel divine pleasure, which I cannot compare to anything of this world,’ she related.
In August 1993, the then government opened the paediatric surgery department and created posts in eight government medical colleges. As per the decision in September of that year, Tahmina joined in CMCH as the head of the paediatric surgery department.
An operation theatre was created for children in 1995.
Gradually the department opened four subdivisions and now the department has two floors with 108 beds.
Under her leadership, the department also plays a pivotal role in pursuing medical research, by organising international seminars, workshop and live operative workshop on hypospadias.
Dr Tahmina invited many top paediatric surgeons from around the world to visit her department.
The department also participated in Operation Smile aboard the US Navy’s seagoing hospital Mercy, near the Chittagong coast.
She said that birth defects are one of the most common causes of disability in developed and developing countries. Although the worldwide incidence of birth defects is estimated at 3-7 per cent, the rate varies widely between countries.
Dr Tahmina said that when a child is born with birth defects and if it is not treated timely it brings total destruction. It sometimes destroys the life of a child; and at others it causes lifelong disability.
In Bangladesh many babies are born without any antenatal evaluation. Due to the lack of prenatal screening, maternal awareness about the problem and limited parental knowledge, babies with congenital anomalies never receive adequate medical follow up, she said.
If proper care can be given, the morbidity and mortality of birth defects can be reduced. There is inadequate data available on the incidence of birth defects in Bangladesh.
She believes, more research and statistics are needed to prevent birth defects.
When Tahmina was in government service, she felt the dire need of research. She retired from the job in 2017.
Then she established Chittagong Research Institute for Children Surgery, CRICS in short, the result of more than 30 years of experience of Tahmina and her research team to address the gaps they identified over the
CRICS also engages in different activities — collaborative low-cost surgery, school health screening, outreach surgical service and health awareness programme. People who cannot afford treatment cost, it provides them free treatment and surgery.
Dr Tahmina conducts day-long surgery on each Friday from 6:00am to 6:00pm with an expert team at Dr Matin Aamra Community Hospital in Barkal, Chandanaish. Dr Tahmina is also involved with a campaign entitled Healthy Bangladesh.
The motto that now drives her: ‘Healthy children, healthy nation.’
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from In Focus