By Elaine Ori, Canadian Red Cross Social Media Ambassador 

For Dr. Salim Sohani, a 35-year career in medicine, global health, and health promotion is not a job, but a passion.

“It’s fulfilling and satisfying because it gives me the opportunity to make a difference and put a smile on the face of people,” says Dr. Sohani, a medical doctor who joined the Canadian Red Cross in 2008 after years of humanitarian work in Africa.  

This fall, the Canadian Society for International Health will be honouring Dr. Sohani with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes substantial contributions to global health, with specific emphasis on program and policy development and implementation, research in international global health, and service to international health-focused organizations.
For Dr. Salim Sohani, a 35-year career in medicine, global health, and health promotion is not a job, but a passion
But Dr. Sohani doesn’t just see this as a recognition of his own accomplishments: “My colleagues doing the work [in the field] have been instrumental in getting these programs off the ground. I honour so many of my colleagues, some are no longer with us, but they were instrumental – colleagues and volunteers doing the work [abroad] are so important.”

Upon graduating as a medical doctor 35 years ago from the University of Karachi in Pakistan, clinical work was the only option.

“I was in paediatrics and what I saw, we were losing children because of preventable disease,” says Dr. Sohani. “I found that we should put in preventative strategies so these children did not get to this point. So I looked at universities with unique programs that were helping young medical graduates to look at community health for deprived populations from a public health approach. That inspired me.”

As the Director of Global Health for the Canadian Red Cross, Dr. Sohani’s work includes developing programs and policies, collaborating with local health care workers and health ministries, and assisting communities in crisis.

Through the Canadian Red Cross, his work has extended to Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East, and regions where help is needed most though his work hasn’t always been so global. “When I looked at the Red Cross, it looked like work with a mission in life, so to me it’s more than work, it’s more than a job, it’s something I always wanted to do and was doing, and I found that the Canadian Red Cross is giving me an opportunity to make an even bigger contribution.”

Described as a humble and hard-working person by colleagues, Dr. Sohani feels there is an abundance of work ahead for his career. “When I as given this award, I was looking back at my career and I was really happy I entered this field. There is plenty I would still like to do in this leg of my career. There are emerging and evolving priorities; what I really want is to be able to analyze those emerging problems and to adjust our package of interventions to help communities and community health care providers to respond.”

One example is creating interventions that would prevent gender-based violence against women in conflict settings, as well as interventions that would care for victims. He would also like to harness the expertise of local health community workers that are responding to epidemics, especially in areas of conflict. Aligning with other global health agency priorities, Dr. Sohani feels that there is work to be done for mothers living with non-communicable diseases. “It’s a huge agenda,” says Dr. Sohani, but one he feels ready to tackle.

With such an extensive background of expertise and experience, Dr. Sohani believes in supporting emerging Canadian professionals interested in public health and humanitarian work, extending an open-door policy for interested graduate students looking to learn about the field.

Reflecting on his expansive career, Dr. Sohani offers advice for those interested in this work: “This is more than an 8-5 job, it’s a mission in life. You need have passion about this, come to this field if you are really compassionate about this work and if you have a desire to alleviate sufferings.”

An avid lover of nature, when Dr. Sohani isn’t at work he enjoys any opportunity to spend time with his family outdoors, or to sit back and enjoy a good book, watch a movie or listen to music.

Dr. Sohani would like to dedicate this award to Red Cross staff and volunteers that have lost their lives in the pursuit of humanitarian aid work among vulnerable populations and those facing crisis.