Book Review: “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” – Memoirs of Engagement with the Aga Khan Development Network

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Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible – Memoirs of Engagement With A Global Development Network by Azim H. Jiwani, MD
300 pp. FriesenPress,
US$ 30.99 (Hardback), US$ 24.99 (Paperback) and US$ 7.99 (eBook) as listed at FriesenPress; also available in all formats at Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca.
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BOOK REVIEW BY NIZAR MOTANI, PhD

Dr. Azim Jiwani’s book was a surprise gift from a dear friend. This unexpected gesture obligated me to read it, which I did with much gratitude, and it even inspired me to write this review. The author’s work is a “pandemic baby” born during the extended lockdown. This Kenya-born Makerere University Medical School (Kampala, Uganda) graduate acquired a broad further medical education in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. He subsequently established a thriving private medical practice in Calgary, Canada, enjoying affiliations with local universities and hospitals.

Dr. Jiwani’s breadth and depth of interests give his memoir a multidisciplinary flavour. The book draws upon insights from anthropology, architecture, civilizational history, natural sciences, moral philosophy, and restless global trotting. I might add that he carries some genes of a novelist and a travel guide.

The synopsis of his book reveals his most earnest and pressing concerns for the future of humanity and the planet, which he champions even after his partial retirement: “Rarely in recent times has the world found itself gripped in conditions that pose a substantial existential threat to lifeforms on earth, destabilize societies, impact health, quality of life, economic and cultural survival, and engender greater inequality and division between and within countries and regions.” Moreover, he continues: “The recent onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic and the accelerating but belatedly acknowledged climate crisis, and its devastating effects on human health, have laid bare the historical, political and policy and institutional deficiencies in health systems worldwide.”

Dr. Jiwani’s concerns about conflict and the global arms race and its devastating health, social and economic impacts, especially in the developing countries, serendipitously led to a life-changing meeting with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at the prince’s chateau in Geneva in 1983. This meeting deeply inspired him to further Prince Sadruddin’s tireless efforts to foster a more just, humane and equitable world. Coincidentally, and again serendipitously, in 1985, he found an excellent umbrella organization to join — the Aga Khan University (AKU), an apex agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which he describes at an enlightening length. “The Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Health Services and empowerment of civil society are an integral part of AKDN’s mission to anticipate and respond to foreseeable effects of unaddressed inequities, poverty, programs and leadership deficits in some of the most challenging regions of the developing world. AKDN also endeavours to enhance institutional capacities, establish collaborative networks and promote best practices and international standards of excellence.”

Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 largely focus on his multiple roles as physician, academic, strategic planner, administrator and occasionally as AKDN representative at various conferences. Dr. Jiwani took part in or led AKU teams involved in negotiating and finding common ground with private and public hospitals and universities and local, national and transnational organizations in Asia and Africa. He aimed to promote some of AKDN’s seemingly revolutionary vision and mission. These endeavours included strengthening institutional capacities to provide good quality, ethical, cost-effective and contextual care — especially for marginalized populations. He established and promoted continuing education of physicians widely and convinced urban specialists in lucrative private practices to incorporate practical primary care approaches for better patient and population outcomes. Also, he led the development of advanced formal education in family and community medicine and fostered comprehensive local, regional, and international partnerships in medical education.

Despite his demanding duties and schedules, he and his wife, Nilufa, squeezed in travels to many exotic places, leading to sundry and memorable encounters. For example, in Cambodia and Morocco, their tour guides requested Dr. Jiwani to examine and advise on their very sick family members, which he readily did. They got paid in the local “currency” – hospitality, home-cooked food, and prayers and blessings for the couple’s well-being!

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"Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible" Akdn, Azim Jiwani and book review by Nizar Motani, Simerg Insights from around the world
“Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” by Dr Azim H. Jiwani, 300 pp., Friesen Press, August 2021.

After more than three decades of enriching global engagement with AKDN and other institutions, he settled in Vancouver, Canada. His reputation derived primarily from his affiliation with AKDN as a worldwide healthcare expert and an advocate for compassionate and affordable care. His passion for linking critical primary and secondary care medicine and making medical education relevant to societies had preceded him. Soon he was fielding requests to help manage understaffed health clinics in the Vancouver area, especially for the marginalized people facing complex medical, mental health and drug addiction problems. Some of the most severe cases were noted in the First-Nations people, where his compassion, broad experience and cultural sensitivity were valued in an underdeveloped native health care system. He led crucial community and hospital programs as a physician leader while re-establishing his clinical and academic career in Canada. 

Similarly, his past engagement with AKDN and clinical reputation brought him seductive and lucrative offers. A former patient, a confidant of the ruling family of a fabulously wealthy country, had identified him as the ideal candidate to head the newly built hospital and serve as the Royal family’s personal physician. The chasm between the lives of the privileged elite and the neighbouring populations that seemed plagued with poverty and privations so disturbed him that he quickly left without meeting the prince. But the intrepid doctor accepted a much less lucrative, occasional position as the onboard physician for a luxury cruise line group! His wide travels whetted and rewarded his insatiable curiosity and interests in marine medicine, environment and culture. Besides attending to all types of routine and emergency cases, the couple was able to “sail on every river, sea, and ocean.” And his readers can vividly and vicariously enjoy these and other adventures.

Dr. Jiwani’s fascinating and instructive memoir raises critical questions about the historical, ethical and moral foundations of health and development. He concludes with an insightful epilogue in which he reflects on the necessary conditions for equity, justice, access and quality in health care and development and appeals for global cooperation for a sustainable future for shared humanity.

The book is available in hardcover, softcover and digital formats. Of note, the author has pledged all royalties from the book sales to the Aga Khan Foundation to support the patients’ welfare funds in Asia and Africa.

This captivating memoir would likely appeal to healthcare and other professionals or avid general readers interested in international organizations, career advancement, or simply expanding their knowledge about the interdependent planet we inhabit.

In conclusion, I am delighted to learn that this book is on the 2021 Finalist list of the prestigious Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) in the non-fiction long-form journalism and memoirs category, where outstanding books from many countries compete. The first prize will be announced at a ceremony and banquet in Washington in June. The beautiful finalist badge is shown along with the front cover of the book at top of this page.

Date posted: March 25, 2022.

[Dr. Azim Jiwani was featured recently in Simerg’s ongoing series on books by Ismaili authors. Please read our interview with Dr. Jiwani – Ed.]

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Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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