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


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 and


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.]


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: 


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

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” by Dr. Azim H. Jiwani of Vancouver

Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Vancouver based Dr. Azim H. Jiwani’s book “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible (Memoirs of Engagement with a Global Development Network).” We follow the same Q/A format as our earlier presentations of books written by Naznin Rahemtulla Hébert, Shairoz Lakhani, Shelina Shariff Zia, Ali Lakhani, Nizar Sultan, Nargis Fazal, Nazlin Rahemtulla, Azmina Suleman, Alnasir Rajan, Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We invite Ismaili authors around the world to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to Simerg’s editor, Malik, at



Simerg’s Interview with Dr. Azim Jiwani

Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

Azim H. Jiwani: I think readers will perceive levels of meaning embodied by the title. Each reader will draw meaning from the title after reading the book since it can have multiple interpretations. This reflection on implications is what I intended.

Today, many people perceive medicine and health care as cold, selective, fragmented and profit and technology-driven. It seems to lack the human touch, warmth, and empathy. Hence, many, particularly in the developing world, feel a lack of “tangibility” of competent, contextual, compassionate and affordable health care available to them. The health status of large segments of populations in many parts of the world is not improving, and gains in some instances are reversing. Never have so many had such broad and advanced access to sophisticated care, but never have so many been denied access to even basic health care.

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Azim: Rarely in recent times has the world found itself gripped in conditions that pose substantial existential threats to lifeforms on earth, destabilize societies, impact health, quality of life, economic and cultural survival, and engender greater inequality and divisions between and within countries and regions.

The ideal of health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being envisioned by the WHO, not just the absence of disease. Hence, health is composite of a myriad of determinants, all constantly in a state of flux. This utopian state of health is unlikely to be achieved, but one can reimagine global health and its foundations and moral imperatives.

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, policy, and institutional deficiencies in health systems worldwide. The vast disparities in availability, accessibility and affordability, quality and equity are glaring in parts of the world, especially when comparing low-income countries of the global South to rich and industrialized countries of the North. This void is more apparent when healthcare systems worldwide are under tremendous stress. During the current pandemic, many in developing countries are denied access to even primary and essential care due to myriad reasons – a dearth of human and material resources, drugs, vaccines, deficits in health policies and local and geopolitical tensions.

I think one thing readers will learn is the complexity and challenges of the development process. The book traces efforts of large non-profit global development organizations — the Aga Khan University and agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network — mainly in the domains of education, healthcare, institutional capacity-building and the empowerment of civil societies. It underscores the mission to anticipate and respond to foreseeable effects of unaddressed inequalities, the poverty, program and leadership deficits in some of the most challenging regions of the developing world. It endeavours to enhance institutional capacities, establish collaborative networks, and promote best practices and international standards of excellence.

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Azim: I had the good fortune of engaging with the early development of Aga Khan University and the Aga Khan Health Services internationally and its programs in medical education and fostering affordable, ethical and quality health care since the early 1980s.

I held various leadership roles in academic, administrative, clinical and planning positions in several major organizations within and outside the AKU and interacted with some outstanding leaders and thinkers. Early in my medical career, I developed an interest in the global arms race’s health, social and economic impacts, particularly on developing countries. This interest and other public health and justice questions led to a life-changing meeting with Prince Sadrudin Aga Khan at his chateau in Geneva in 1983. I was deeply inspired by his efforts and roles to foster a more just and equitable world.

As narrated in the book, the impetus and inspiration essentially derived from our faith’s essential ethical and moral foundations, as articulated by Hazar Imam in his numerous utterances. The lockdown periods of 2020/2021 finally induced me to chronicle almost four decades of engagement in aspects of medical education, global health, development, marginalization, and comment on historical imprints on development and questions of justice and human dignity. It was impressed upon me that the experience and skills I acquired over decades of engagement in global health and medical education were too valuable to be wasted. My friends and colleagues strongly encouraged me to chronicle my observations of the times and places, ideals and realities of just and compassionate societies and my wide-ranging engagements.

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Ismaili authors Series by Simerg Front cover of Dr Azim H. Jiwani's book "Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible", Friesen Press
Front cover of Dr Azim H. Jiwani’s book “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible”, 300 pp., Friesen Press, August 2021.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Azim: The book is available in hardcover, softcover and e-books, e.g., Kindle, Nook, Apple Books, Google Books. It is widely available directly from the publisher FriesenPress and Amazon, Chapters/Indigo in Canada, Barnes & Noble in the U.S. and many other retail outlets. It is also available in many countries like the U.K., Australia, Europe and India.

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Azim: As I was writing, I received many unsolicited offers to publish the book, mainly from the U.S. and Canada. I ignored these until towards the end of the initial draft. I decided to pick a large, established and reputable Canadian publisher, as I was aware of some of the books published by them. They were expensive but of high quality. The publisher FriesenPress partners with a large American publishing and printing house called Ingram; hence the book is printed in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Azim: Basically, the publisher provided the editorial services, printing and distribution, but I selected the photographs and illustration with the kind permission of the AKU and the United Nations. Not being very tech-savvy, I needed some technical help from friends for this.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write Humanizing Medicine from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Azim: I think the whole process of writing, editing, printing and distribution took about eighteen months of hard work since I could only focus on the book a few hours a day. The book was published in the Autumn of 2021 and launched in Washington, D.C., about three months ago.

Simerg: Tell us something more about your book.

Azim: The book interweaves three stands. Since it is essentially written from a personal perspective, it tells a unique story spanning almost five decades. It intertwines this strand with the efforts and the ethos of the AKU/AKDN in empowering civil society, human development and equity, the global conditions over the last century, and the historical and national and regional evolutions in health care and development. It includes many short anecdotes and vignettes set in various world locales, from Morocco to Cambodia, illustrating many of the points. I hope that the book provides a longitudinal perspective of global challenges and their relevance in today’s uncertain and trying times. I believe it could be informative and inspiring to professionals and volunteers who seek to broaden their careers and horizons through engagements globally in an interconnected world.

I should inform you that all proceeds from the global sale of this book are donated through the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) to support the Patient Welfare Programs of the Aga Khan hospitals to care for needy patients.

Date posted: March 9, 2022.


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Ismaili author Dr. Azim Jiwani Humanizing Medicine Simerg special series
Dr. Azim Jiwani

Dr. Azim Jiwani worked in health care and global health development for several decades, holding various leadership positions in academic, hospital, and community settings. His work included teaching, research, medical administration, strategic planning, advocacy, consultancies, and advisory roles. Dr. Jiwani held senior faculty positions with the Aga Khan University (AKU) and at the University of British Columbia in the Faculty of Medicine as a clinical professor. He interacted with many local, national, and multilateral organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations, universities, and global health institutions-and he continues to play a consulting and voluntary advisory role in health care, education and international development.

As an avid traveller, Dr. Jiwani’s journeys have taken him to locales in Europe, Asia, Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Australia and New Zealand, where he explored local cultures, traditions, social, historical and environmental aspects of life and development. He has lectured at many higher learning institutions, professional organizations, civil society groups, and community groups. His interests include natural sciences, moral philosophy, architecture, civilizational histories, and anthropology. Dr. Jiwani lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia, with Nilu, his wife of 45 years. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

Calling all Ismaili Authors

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.

The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

  1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji (series start, February 10, 2021)
  2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff (February 25, 2021)
  3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha (March 6, 2021)
  4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
  5. “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
  6. “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)
  7. “RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty” by Nazlin Rahemtulla (May 28, 2021)
  8. “Coughdrops” by Nargis Fazal (June 12, 2021)
  9. “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan (June 25, 2021)
  10. “Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat” by M. Ali Lakhani (July 4, 2021)
  11. “Nairobi Days by Shelina_Shariff Zia (July 21, 2021)
  12. “Shine Brighter” by Shairoz Lakhani (December 8, 2021).
  13. “This is My Life” by Naznin Rahemtulla Hébert (February 26, 2022)
  14. “Humanizing Medicine – Making Health Tangible” by Dr. Azim Jiwani (March 9, 2022)


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.

The editor may be reached via email at