Exclusive Interview: Novelist heads health summit

30th Nov 2018
Exclusive Interview: Novelist heads health summit

In an exclusive interview with the CEO of World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Qatar, Sultana Afdhal, said her vision is to create a “beacon of health care” in the country.

Speaking to Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, in Doha on November 14, she said it was the vision of Her Excellency Sheikha Hind Bint Hamad Al Thani, CEO of Qatar Foundation, to have an organisation “where people would come to really express their opinion disseminate, capture and disseminate ideas and health care innovation and address the greatest challenges of our time in health care.”

Established in 2013 WISH provides a platform to give “opportunities for local and international healthcare experts, innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers and ministers to explore areas of collaboration and work towards shaping the future of global healthcare.”

Since its inception, WISH has managed to fulfil some of the goals and “we think that we will need to grow and get better Its brand is now recognized around the world and that’s what we needed. I think we’ve gone far to achieving these goals and we worked to continuously build upon them,” said Afdhal.

The novelist said they faced a lot of challenges, especially since the Saudi-led siege.

“I think the challenges were with the geopolitical situation. As it is, we didn’t have any Saudis or Emiratis. It is sad not to be friends with your neighbours. We welcome, we open our doors to everyone. They are most welcome to come. They choose not to engage, I think that’s probably one of the saddest, the most disappointing thing for us,” she said.

On organisational challenges, Afdhal said it was “really easy to innovate here because we can almost ask or create something and people, as long as it’s reasonable, will go along with it because that’s the magic of having a foundation that’s still forming.

You can reform things and you make mistakes; you always do along the way. It is a challenge when you publish a good report but then put it on a shelf and never see it again.”

However, they have had success stories. “The successes are the great stories that people tell, the interactions. You can place people in a room and you think you know what’s going to happen, but the outcomes are amazing. The ideas that they share are amazing. So, I think when you bring people together magic happens because they have ideas and learn from each other and they metamorphosise into something amazing; so that’s the great thing.”

Afdhal says they will be going to Oxford University to hold seminars on topics like nursing and mental health. They will also be going to Senegal and other parts of Africa, where “we’ve never been and organising many events, spreading the message but not spreading it as a WISH event; we only want partners to do it like WHO and University of Colombia; so people believe in your message and they want to work with you and this is a really good testament to how good you are.”

How do you see WISH in ten years from now? “We hope to be a beacon of healthcare, we hope that people come here, and we are so focused on what we do that people trust our brand enough to come here and know that they will find the experts at our convention they couldn’t find anywhere else in the world,” Afdhal replied.

The Master’s degree graduate in English Literature from Oxford University has put a huge effort into the creation and implementation of innovative learning programmes for children with autism and special needs. So what motivated her?

“Our journey with autism began a couple of years ago when I met a group of mothers from the Qatar Autism Families Association. They fought for many years to have their voices heard and for their children to have an opportunity like all other children do; to grow, to play sports, to have their special needs met,” she explained.

When she met the children with special needs, “they literally begged me for help and it touched me, it touched me a lot and I thought why do I take from this role. This role isn’t just to put up this on; it is so that we create real change within the community. So we started sporting programs, swimming and horse riding and to see a child who is sitting on a chair and is scared of water but within weeks is swimming in a pool is the reason why you do it.
“Because you just want to do it. You only need one mother to bless you and your job is done. Because you change somebody’s life that one day and I think that’s what matters to me more than anything else.”

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