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‘At least 50% Bangladeshi women should dream of becoming scientists'

  • Published at 11:47 pm February 14th, 2020

Bangladeshi scientist Dr Firdausi Qadri has recently won the 22nd L'Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Award, tells Dhaka Tribune's Humaira Mustazir about her work and the advice she wants to give to the younger generation working with science.

On the occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, L'Oréal Foundation and Unesco recently announced the names of five winners including Dr Firdausi, who won the award from the Asia-Pacific region. 

Dr Qadri is the head of the Mucosal Immunology and Vaccinology Unit of the Infectious Diseases Division at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease and Research, Bangladesh (icddr, b).

She has been awarded for her outstanding work in understanding and preventing infectious diseases affecting children in developing countries, and promoting early diagnosis and vaccination with global health impact.

In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune, Dr Firdausi talked about her work, the challenges  she faced, her future goals and her advice to the younger generation,  especially girls and women, who are working in the field of science.

Congratulations on achieving the award. Give us a brief description of your work and research.

As a health sector researcher, I study the pathogens which cause diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera and how our body or immune system responds to them. I have a huge team working behind me, in collaboration with international scientists, in order to conduct high quality research.

My work also includes the study of vaccines and how it can be improved to protect people, especially children, from getting infected with pathogenic diseases and to what extent it is safe for them. 

What motivated you to work on this research?

Around 20-25 years ago I joined icddr, b and since then I have wanted to work on those diseases mostly suffered by Bangladeshi people. Currently, I am working on respiratory infections, as a maximum number of Bangladeshi people are suffering from them. 

Moreover, our work suggests Bangladesh needs to import a number of vaccines and also include many others vaccines, those we have worked on, in the current vaccination system which has succeeded in saving many children's lives and helped mothers too.

Tell us about the problems you faced while doing your research.

The main problem I faced while doing the research was access to different facilities. Appropriate and expensive facilities are available in developed nations, but their problem is they cannot use them and we do not have them. With the constant change in technologies, it is a challenge for us to deal with this lack of facilities.

Share with us the moments which inspired you to continue with the work.

Whenever there were new findings on diseases, diagnosis process or vaccinations, it inspired me to work more. Success stories of vaccines, outcomes of our studies, have motivated me to continue the work. 

What role would you, after  winning the L'Oréal-Unescofor Women in Science Awards, play and what is the way forward for your work?

Hopefully the award will increase Bangladesh's worldwide recognition in the health sector as done by sectors like ready-made garments (RMG) and sports.

I hope to do something to help Bangladesh lead in the health sector and to ensure all opportunities to young researchers, so  that they can hold on to the enthusiasm of doing new and better quality of work.

In your opinion, what role must be played by the government and other institutions to increase the volume of research work?

A better communication system among all the institutions will eventually increase research work. More fellowship programs and more funding must flow in the sector of science.

Advice for the younger generation, especially girls and women, who want to work for science?

At least 50% of Bangladeshi women should dream of becoming scientists. Many think one needs to work long hours to become a scientist but this thought is wrong. All you need to do is give attention and concentrate. 

A lot of girls study science in schools but eventually drop out and this needs to stop. Interest in science needs to be there from childhood and I request parents to encourage their children in this regard. 

We have a lot of capacity, coming from different parts of Bangladesh. Today I have achieved an award and in future many other girls or women will win better awards.