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A new Canadian on the frontlines of Red Cross COVID-19 response

By: Kathy Mueller, Senior Communications Advisor, Canadian Red Cross
 
2020 is turning out to be a year of firsts for Dr Mubariz Tariq.

It’s the first time he is supporting a pandemic response; it’s the first time he has visited an Indigenous community; it’s the first time he is carrying a Canadian passport; and it’s the first time he is working with the Canadian Red Cross.

Just a couple of months into officially being recognized as a Canadian citizen, the Afghanistan-born Dr Tariq is now helping to lead the Red Cross COVID-19 response. He joined the Epidemic, Prevention and Control team as a public health advisor in April and was quickly sent to Montreal to support long-term care homes that were being heavily impacted by the pandemic.

“Two days prior to going, my cousin back home passed away from COVID-19 and that kind of shattered everybody,” says Dr Tariq. “I think I finally convinced my wife to let me go by saying that Canada has been very kind to us and it was time to give back and contribute to the health and wellbeing of our seniors who did so much to build this nation.”
Dr Mubariz Tariq on a boat

Just a couple of months into officially being recognized as a Canadian citizen, Dr. Mubariz Tariq is now helping to lead the Red Cross COVID-19 response. He’s been on the frontlines, responding to outbreaks in long-term care homes and in remote Indigenous communities and has provided support to migrant workers needing to isolate. “When you’re working for the Red Cross you’re not working for money or prestige. You’re working to reach people and to put smiles on their faces,” he says.


In the months that have followed, Dr Tariq has been on the road a lot, continuing to provide support to long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario, as well as migrant workers in southwestern Ontario, and helping Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba manage COVID-19 outbreaks.

It’s his job to liaise with local teams, assess the situation, look at what measures are in place to prevent and control the spread of the virus, and advise on additional steps that could be taken to help minimize its impact. Training local staff on the appropriate use of personal protective equipment is also offered.

“The principles of our work remain the same regardless of whether we’re working in a long-term care home or in an Indigenous community,” says Dr Tariq. “What changes is our approach so that we communicate and identify solutions that work within the local context.”

Visiting Indigenous communities for the first time, Dr Tariq says he relied on a local Red Cross colleague who has worked with community members for decades to provide guidance on approach, culture, and language – to ensure that suggested ways forward would be culturally appropriate.

Dr Mubariz Tariq and Indigenous health care workers discuss how best to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak in Little Grand Rapids First Nation in northern Manitoba.

Dr. Mubariz Tariq and Indigenous health care workers discuss how best to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak in Little Grand Rapids First Nation in northern Manitoba. It’s the job of Dr Tariq’s team to liaise with local teams, assess the situation, look at what measures are in place to prevent and control the spread of the virus, and advise on additional steps that could be taken to help minimize its impact.



He stresses the importance of being able to adapt regardless of the circumstances – whether in a refugee camp in Pakistan, a hospital in Afghanistan, a long-term care facility in Quebec, or an Indigenous community in northern Manitoba where he slept in the only space that was available due to the COVID-19 outbreak - on the floor of an office. He learned just how limited access to food can be in Indigenous communities, even in a developed country, and adjusted his diet while remaining true to his religious beliefs. “There was no halal food, so I ate a lot of potatoes, omelets and bread. It was a unique experience for me. I learned a lot about myself.”

The father of four young daughters brings a wealth of international knowledge to his current role. Raised in Pakistan after his family fled conflict in his homeland, Dr Tariq returned to Afghanistan to study medicine. It was while he was working as a surgeon there that he met doctors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He was inspired by what he saw and by the Red Cross principles of neutrality and impartiality. “As a doctor you are already impartial and neutral, so those principles aligned with my personal moral character as well as professionally,” he says.

He joined the ICRC and shifted into public health, sharing his expertise and guiding local healthcare staff in country after country, from Pakistan to Malaysia, Yemen and India.

Five years ago, he moved his young family to Canada, settling in Toronto where he recently completed his master’s degree. He is thrilled to once again be wearing the very recognizable red vest with the Red Cross emblem on the back.

“When you’re working for the Red Cross you’re not working for money or prestige. You’re working to reach people and to put smiles on their faces,” he says.

And in the not too distant future, Dr Tariq hopes to continue putting smiles on people’s faces – while putting his new Canadian passport to use - supporting the Canadian Red Cross with the work it continues internationally.
 
The Canadian Red Cross is anticipating recruitment of humanitarian workers who will provide vital support to Canadians. Our goal is to build and maintain teams who will take on various roles.

Learn more.

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