Dr Tasnim Jara: A vaccine luminary and a modern knowledge preacher
In an interview with The Business Standard, Dr Tasnim Jara, who was recently recognised as a ‘Vaccine Luminary’ by the UK government, shared her journey towards becoming a mass educator and her take on the current vaccine situation in Bangladesh
During the initial phase of the pandemic, when there were many stigmas and fear regarding Covid-19, a young Bangladeshi doctor studying in the UK decided to inform and educate citizens about the virus.
She is Dr Tasnim Jara, whose activities as a mass educator not only brought her immense popularity, but also the prestigious title of 'Vaccine Luminary' from the government of UK.
Her continuous efforts to build awareness on social media boosted people's confidence in vaccines.
When the vaccine was introduced in Bangladesh, a great number of people were reluctant to get vaccinated.
So Jara stepped in to help the situation by providing reliable facts about the vaccine and also busting myths associated with them.
While speaking to The Business Standard, she said, "A good number of people at present consume news and healthcare advice from social media platforms. But these often lack reliable information in terms of health and other sources. So the users are often supplied with misinformation, rumours, and hoaxes. Hence, I wanted to work in this area to give out credible information on social media platforms."
Born and raised in Dhaka, Jara was always a studious person and loved biology. However, she never had a specific aim as a child.
"I was born and brought up in Dhaka. After taking my HSC examinations from Viqarunnisa Noon School & College, I made a conscious choice to pursue medicine. Since I was interested in biology, I assumed I would enjoy studying medicine. My parents were quite supportive and trusted my decision," she explained.
She completed her MBBS from Dhaka Medical College and is currently doing a Master's in Evidence-Based Health Care at University of Oxford. Alongside, she has been working as a clinician or an Emergency Medicine doctor at the National Health Service (NHS) in England for more than two years.
"I am quite passionate about evidence-based medicine, which aims to reduce waste of money, time, or effort on treatments that are ineffective, unproven, and sometimes harmful. This master's from Oxford will equip me to be a better clinician" she said.
Her work requires her to treat a wide variety of patients, a lot of them coming with acute diseases.
When Covid-19 patients come to the hospitals in a distressed situation, NHS doctors like Tasnim Jara are the first to assess and stabilise them.
She believes that her active engagement in community service from student life set her up for the awareness campaign she is doing during this pandemic.
While studying at Dhaka Medical College, she was the president of the United Nations Youth Advisory Panel Bangladesh, which works to advise the UN Country Team on strategic opportunities to address youth and adolescent issues.
She also participated in debate competitions and taught young people leadership at Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre (BYLC).
Jara's journey from Dhaka Medical College to Oxford University inspired many Bangladeshi youths to aim big.
As she grew interested in Evidence-based Medicine while studying at DMCH, she kept looking for opportunities to study this better.
She said, "While I was doing my internship at Dhaka Medical College, I applied for a Master's program in Evidence-based Health Care at the University of Oxford and got accepted."
We asked her how she felt about being recognised as one of the global Vaccine Luminaries in the G7 Global Vaccine Confidence Summit.
"Of course I was very happy when I learned about it. My friends and family were delighted by the news. Hopefully, this recognition will help me reach a larger audience."
She has nearly 870k+ followers on Facebook, 802k+ followers on YouTube and she is also exploring other social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
Jara has also interviewed one of the Oxford Vaccine Scientists to give people access to a firsthand account of how the vaccine was developed in record time without cutting any corners.
To reach a wider audience, she has made strategic partnerships with Brac, Grameenphone, Team Halo, and other institutions.
"I worked with religious leaders to allay any fears on the permissibility of the vaccine from religious perspectives. While expressing my concern for lukewarm interest for vaccine registration in Bangladesh, one of my professors suggested that one of the ways to increase vaccine uptake is working with faith leaders," she said.
We further asked how she handled a conservative community like ours who had negative ideas towards vaccination and how she navigated through negative comments.
The doctor said, "I believe people in our country trust vaccines. We have had remarkable success on mass vaccination in the past. However, when the Covid-19 vaccine arrived, initially many people were reluctant to take it and some decided to wait until more people had it. When the vaccine registration was rolled out, the uptake was low as well. So what I tried to do was present the science so that people could make their decisions based on facts, not rumours."
During her journey she also faced anti-vaxxers. But she was not concerned about them. She was interested in people who genuinely sought information about vaccines and how it works.
"I worry about negative comments when they mislead people and I try to correct them with facts. I also receive many heartwarming comments which I am really grateful for."
Bangladesh, as an emerging economy, needs to handle the pandemic very cautiously to hold its position in the global market. But is the country doing enough, we asked her.
She believes that although there are some areas where Bangladesh has scope for improvement, the country's health care professionals and front line workers are doing an incredible job.
But she suggests increasing the number of tests and genome sequencing to understand the spread of variants more accurately. Without constant surveillance, it is difficult to design and implement the right response at the right time.
The recent crisis in India caused a shortage of vaccine supply in our country. This affected our mass vaccination campaign and our heavy reliance on one source may have led us to this situation.
On this, she said, "We have seen developed countries diversify their sources of vaccines. Diversity is important because we cannot predict supply shortages, safety signals, etc. Bangladesh is trying to diversify its sources currently, although this should have been done much earlier. I am not an expert on international contract negotiation and procurement, so I don't know if there were any practical limitations."
When asked about her organisation 'Shohay', Jara said that she created 'Shohay' to not only focus on the coronavirus but also explore other health issues and inspire people to live healthy.
She thinks that it is very unfortunate that some of the world's richest countries have been hoarding vaccines. "We need to ensure equitable access to vaccines all across the globe to end this pandemic. The richer countries are trying to vaccinate their entire population while some countries have not vaccinated even one percent of their population. This is extremely unfortunate."
Tasnim Jara is thankful to her follower community which helped to deliver her message to the broader public. She aims to educate more people to build a world with less stigmas and more knowledge.