“We lost an exemplary son, a respectful son-in law, a loving father, a caring husband, a kind brother, a sympathetic relative, a helping neighbor…” were the phrases passed by the dearest of Asmat Malik, who laid him in his grave with sobbing eyes on May 30, midnight. I was among hundreds of Asmat’s friends attending his funeral in Attock, Pakistan. People had travelled hundreds of miles, while fasting on a long hot summer day, on a very short notice for the funeral prayers. It seemed so difficult and painful for many to come to terms with the reality. With an immense sense of loss, I witnessed his professional colleagues remembering him as bright, humble, intelligent, well-humored and a “Rising public health star of Pakistan”. Each of them had wonderful memories to share. Soon after I had left the funeral, I saw more than 150 heartfelt condolence messages sent via email/WhatsApp from Asmat’s friends in more than 30 countries to me to be forwarded to his family. Inevitably, these messages were laden with great sadness, shock and surprise, but they were also full of Asmat’s qualities, fond memories and sincere wishes for his family.
For those who interacted with Asmat briefly and know him just as a helping hand, let me quickly recap his professional life here. Asmat was a medical doctor and a systems analyst by training with a PhD in Health Policy and Systems from the University of Queensland. He worked over 18 years in health systems of South-East Asia and Africa, and was an international expert and a trainer on developing Comprehensive Multi-Year Plans (CMYP) for Immunization Systems. He had great skills and expertise in developing health system strengthening initiatives in resource limited settings and had successfully developed GAVI Health System Strengthening Grant Applications. Besides working in Pakistan, he had developed strong collaborations with internationally recognized institutions, including The University of Queensland (Australia), ITM (Belgium) and the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (Switzerland).
Being an active member of the Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) Program since 2010, he had developed strong professional ties with emerging health systems researchers and policy analysts from more than 30 countries in the Global South. Since 2015, he was also co-chair of the EV4GH governance team. More in general, he’s been a companion of the EV4GH programme from the very start in Montreux and has mentored various EV cohorts over the years, with great skill. Many EV alumni still can’t believe the venture will now have to go on without him.
Those who knew Asmat personally, considered him a role model for work-life balance – one of his many qualities. He was skillful in managing time, stress, change, and leisure. His down to earth attitude & cheeky sense of humor certainly helped in that respect. Many of us looked up to him. And none of us feel ready to use the past tense when thinking about Asmat.
Asmat fought a brave battle against end-stage liver cancer in the last two months of his life, with the support of Neelofur, Sabeeha, and Haseeb – Asmat’s wife, daughter, and son. Neelofur is a practicing gynecologist in Attock, Sabeeha is taking her A levels exams and Haseeb is an O levels student. God bless them at this time of extreme sorrow.
Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. I request all the friends to share their special experiences (personal or professional) with Asmat in the comments below. Sabeeha and Haseeb will likely feel prouder and draw inspiration from enriching experiences of their accomplished father!