Public Health: Building Bridges to the Most Vulnerable

Karar Zunaid Ahsan, called Zunaid, is a PhD candidate in the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC, focusing on practical ways to deliver better health care to vulnerable populations, and working to analyze data to achieve that goal.

ZunaidKarar Zunaid Ahsan, called Zunaid, is a PhD candidate in the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC, focusing on practical ways to deliver better health care to vulnerable populations, and working to analyze data to achieve that goal.

He’s interested in the practical means to create better health policy—putting to use his background in statistics and econometrics gained at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, his home country, and at the University of Sydney in Australia, where he earned his master’s in public health.

In general, Zunaid is interested in gaps. For example, the gap between health care available in dense urban areas in Bangladesh versus services available among low-lying areas. These are hard-to-get-to places where people live on boats because land is underwater much of the year. He’s looking at the gap between national health policy that often focuses, he says, on “doing the easy things,” like building clinics in urban centers, versus looking at the specific circumstances that people face and tailoring health solutions to fit. Like putting mobile clinics on motorboats.

Zunaid is collaborating with MEASURE Evaluation in his degree program. MEASURE Evaluation is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is the largest single research award at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), housed in the Carolina Population Center (CPC). The project focuses on using health data to understand the health issues in a given location and how to strengthen health systems that, in turn, can deliver better services for people. Zunaid has begun his doctoral studies at UNC and expects to earn his degree in 2021. Nevertheless, in May, he and several co-authors already published a journal article.[1]The paper examined Bangladesh’s capacity to produce and use health estimates for monitoring progress towards global goals for better health.

What Zunaid’s study found is that Bangladesh is data rich and uses data appropriately to inform policy and improve health programs. However, the country has limited health human resources and so lags on providing updates on health indicators. He concluded that to bridge the data gap, Bangladesh needs to invest more in electronic data systems and combine data sources into a common platform.

Zunaid doesn’t stop at identifying the gaps that represent the problem. He’s most focused on the bridges to span those gaps. He is analyzing data gathered in two major studies MEASURE Evaluation is conducting in Bangladesh: the Bangladesh Maternal Mortality Survey (BMMS) to monitor progress on maternal health goals, and the Urban Health Survey (UHS) of maternal health and family planning in slum and non-slum areas.[2]

Overall improvements for health in Bangladesh, ultimately, must include all the country, not just those that are easy to reach, he says. “These pockets of vulnerability are where we must make the next steps toward progress.”

 Read "Five Questions with Karar Zunaid Ahsan" from UNC Gillings School of Public Health.



[1] Ahsan, K.Z., Tahsina, T., Iqbal, A., Ali, N.B. Chowdhury, S.K., Huda, T., et al (2017). Production and use of estimates for monitoring progress in the health sector: the case of Bangladesh, Archives of Public Health (Gillings School of Public Health, UNC) and Global Health Action (Umea University, Sweden), 10 (sup 1). 

[2] Karar Zunaid Ahsan, Tazeen Tahsina, Afrin Iqbal, et al. Production and use of estimates for monitoring progress in the health sector: the case of Bangladesh. Global Health Action. Volume 10, 2017. Issue Sup1, 22 May 2017.  Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16549716.2017.1298890

Karar Zunaid Ahsan, Shams El Arifeen, Md. Abdullah Al-Mamun, Shusmita H. Khan, Nitai Chakraborty. Effects of individual, household and community characteristics on child nutritional status in the slums of urban Bangladesh. Archives of Public Health. 2017. 75:9. Retrieved from https://archpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13690-017-0176-x