National Professor Mohammad Ibrahim: A Believer In Change
National Professor Mohammad Ibrahim (1911-1989) was a celebrated physician, a gifted teacher, a talented organiser and a great reformer. His contributions in the field of medicine in general and diabetes in particular have been nothing less than phenomenal. He spent the major part of his life in government health services in key positions.
Dr. Ibrahim was the founder of Diabetic Association in Dhaka (1956) and in Karachi and Lahore, West Pakistan (1964). He realised that diabetes is a disease where not only doctors but also patients should be involved in the treatment. He termed it socio-medical care. Although the real extent of the problem of diabetes was not evident in our part of the world, he could foresee the present picture at that time and organised a group of social workers, philanthropists and professionals. With their help he established Diabetic Association of Pakistan on February 28, 1956.
Diabetic care was started in a tin-shed building at Segun Bagicha with only 23 patients. Dr. Ibrahim's motto was "No diabetic patient should die untreated, unfed or unemployed even if she/he is poor." So, he gave primary care to the diabetic patients free of cost. Even rich patients were not allowed to pay for primary diabetic care, but they could donate money to the Association. The funds were raised through motivation programmes.
He established the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation in Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders (Birdem) at Dhaka in 1980, where the out-patients centre of the Bangladesh Diabetic Association was shifted to. The institute is housed in two large buildings, named the Ibrahim Memorial Diabetes Centre after his death in 1989. To develop trained and specialised manpower, he also established an Academy in Birdem for postgraduate education in diabetes, endocrine and metabolism.
Birdem has been acclaimed as a model for South East Asia. In recognition of its innovative, extensive and high quality service it was designated in 1982 as a "WHO-Collaborating Centre for Developing Community-oriented Programmes for Prevention and Control of Diabetes." It is the first such centre in Asia .
Dr. Ibrahim was aware of the quality of the service provided to the patients. He used to tell patients: "We are grateful to you for giving us the opportunity to serve." Deep empathy and compassion were characteristics of his dealing with patients, especially those who were poor and in pain. He also motivated other doctors to serve the patients with empathy. He included social welfare, health education, nutritional education and rehabilitation in the diabetes healthcare delivery system. He always believed that an institution achieves its goal and excellence neither by bricks and mortar, nor by machine or metal, but by its human resources. He spent all his life in developing talented human resources.
For over three decades, Dr. Ibrahim raised awareness about diabetes through free-of-cost quality services, health education, and motivation. He also established the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training for Applied Nutrition (BIRTAN) and Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centre (RVTC) in Dhaka to develop low-cost nutrition, and to give vocational training to poor and unemployed diabetics.
He also set up a family planning section at Birdem for motivational work. His involvement began as a founder member of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh, which first started its programme in the mid-fifties. He made an impact as the adviser to the president, with the rank of minister in-charge of the Ministry of Health and Population Control, Social Welfare in the mid-1970's. He was instrumental in formulating the population control policy of the government for the first time and introduced the National Population Council.
Following the guidance and philosophy of its founder the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh has upheld its motto that in Bangladesh no diabetic should die untreated or unfed, even if he/she was poor, and that all people shall be provided with affordable health care service. The Association has set some targets and objectives as its mission. These include, inter alia, providing total healthcare including prevention, control and rehabilitation for all diabetics through different institutions of the Association; expanding these services to provide affordable BADAS healthcare through self-sustaining centres of excellence; developing human resources; creating specialized, quality manpower (physicians, technicians, nurses, etc) of high ethical standards for manning these institutions; developing leadership in healthcare through dedicated and transparent management system; developing industries for diabetic and health foods; and manufacturing medicines. Diabetes care centres have been established in and around Dhaka and also all over the country with local entrepreneurs. Now there are 60 branches in district headquarters and 5 sub-affiliated centres at the upazilla level.
Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim died on September 6, 1989. His death anniversary is observed as (Diabetic) Service Day (Sheba Divash) to endorse and honour his great contribution to socio-medicare services.