This month it is our absolute pleasure and honour to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Khaled Almilaji, a Syrian physician, humanitarian and public health advocate who received the most prestigious award, Canada’s Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal in December of 2017.
Dr. Almilaji who has started his Master of Public Health program at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in US on a student visa in fall of 2016, after returning back from a UN Meeting that he had just attended in Turkey, was denied re-entry to US due to Trump Administration’s travel ban. Fortunately for him, he was then invited by the Howard Hu, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health IHPME at University of Toronto to continue his education in Executive Master of Health Informatics, which he then joined in fall of 2017. Dr. Almilaji has worked closely with World Health Organization and United Nation, and along with his colleagues Dr. Dahman and Mr. Cameron founded the Canadian International Medical Relief Organization (CIMRO) in order to provide the essential medical supplies and training to frontline healthcare workers during the six year long Syrian civil war. In Syria during the outbreak of polio in 2013, Dr. Almilaji and his team also coordinated the delivery of vaccines to 1.4 million Syrian children. Currently he is fundraising for his new project, the new Underground Syrian Hospital: Avicenna Women & Children Hospital (https://www.facebook.com/care4syriankids/)
Diva: It is really a pleasure to have you for this month with IHO-Share Your Story Series, and we are very grateful for your time to share your story with us. My first question would be how would you describe your feelings growing up and living in Syria and now seeing how this beautiful country with amazing people has to suffer from such inhuman circumstances?
Dr. Khaled: Thanks for having me! What is happening in syria is accumulative effect of corruption and dictatorship, sooner or later people will demand their rights , but syrian people had expected more efficient support from the international community, which unfortunately didn’t happen then and they have been left alone.
Diva: As you have enrolled in Executive Master of Health Informatics, what are your next career goals?
Dr. Khaled: In general I am hoping to share my field experience with highly skilled academic personnel and experts to deploy their knowledge and skills to solve more grave problems in developing countries. For myself, until mid 2019, that is when I finish my master hopefully, I will be able to decide if I will continue gaining more academic experience or want to go and serve my community in the field. I am still managing my team in Turkey and Syria full time while I am studying full time here too.
About Your Work
Diva: Would you like to share with us about the work you are involved in, specifically about CIMRO, and Underground Syrian Hospital: Avicenna Women & Children Hospital? How do you and your team provide healthcare support and services to those who have suffered from war in Syria? What are some of the challenges you face in providing such services?
Dr. Khaled: By now it has been more than 7 years that I have worked with the Syrian crisis and I would say that this has enabled me to understand the requirements and needs my community very well. My projects were a result of the deep analysis of the field needs and knowledge of available resources and potential donors and stakeholders, which allowed me to create projects that are meeting the needs perfectly. I co-founded an early warning alert and response network in northern Syria to monitor the communicable diseases, and it was funded by Italian government and Gates foundation. I also co-founded an initiative to create a team of engineers who should focus full time on building the underground facilities since 2014. Similarly, I co-founded a regional health information system in northern Syria with couple of local organizations and colleagues which facilitated the collection of data in the war zone in Syria in the field from health facilities. I am working now on application of telemedicine services in a referral hospital in the field in Idilb.
Your Appeal from International Community
Diva: If you would imagine that the world would listen to your voice, what would you share with them about Syria and its crises?
Dr. Khaled: What happened in Syria might happen to any country in the world, international community can’t still close its eyes from miseries of suppressed people in many countries in the world. They have to stop supporting foreign policy decisions that depends only on political and economical benefits, and start considering human rights and democracy more seriously.
Diva: I saw that you spoke at TEDxUofT 2018: Deconstruct, would you like to share your topic with our audience?
Dr. Khaled: Volunteerism is critical, irreplaceable in any healthy community, city, or nation. But the power of volunteerism is much greater than that, on a global scale. Some institutions wouldn’t replace volunteers with paid staff, even if they had the money to do so. Because volunteers provide a service that is qualitatively different. They create a positive atmosphere, an irreplaceable environment, have a social impact far greater than that provided by a professional paid staff. Volunteers can form a critical and powerful force. A stakeholder that has huge influence and that can rival and balance the world’s great powers. Therefore when we volunteer, we become members of this international community of volunteers. So, if UN fails to act. The international community of volunteers can step in. If your government fails to act it’s time for the immense power of volunteers to take action. If every one of us does something, every one of us acts in his or her own small way, we can and we will make huge difference.
Diva: How do you see the future of healthcare in Syria, and what will be some of your recommendation for building the healthcare system of this country?
Dr. Khaled: Syrians are creative people and they always can figure out a way to use very limited resources to provide good services. Once they have the ability to build their institutions again in a democratic environment, they will be motivated to use their dedication and creativity in the post-crisis phase.
Diva: Is there anything else you would want to share with us? Would you want to share any other insight to aspiring future doctors, or those who want to pursue a profession in healthcare?
Dr. Khaled: Let’s serving the global community be always part of any doctor’s scope of work, the world needs all of us to participate in solving the world problems.
Diva: What is the most important thing for a living a life of impact where every morning you wake up passionate about what you can do for the greater good of humanity?
Dr. Khaled: It has always been a great feeling I had when I saved the first life. The first time I helped a kid and saw the appreciation in his parents eyes. It is always the feeling you will have after the first true experience of helping others.
Diva: We are really grateful for taking the time to share your insights which we are sure will be the source of guiding our future medical doctors and those who want to pursue a profession in healthcare!
Diva Turial and IHO Team