The frontline doctor couple Mamun Al Mahtab and Nuzhat Choudhury of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) narrate their crusade against COVID-19 to Colors Alvia Zaman Shristy.
Professor Mamun Al Mahtab and Professor Nuzhat Choudhury of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) took their vaccine in late January. Amongst more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh, this doctor couple had been aﬀected while on active duty in the frontline, but was quick to recover and get right back in action. Alvia Zaman Shristy from Colors magazine sat down with the powerhouse duo to learn about what it takes to be ﬁghting on the frontlines of a global pandemic and emerge as heroes.
“We’re lucky to have the vaccine early. Many countries are still struggling to get the shots, hence we should not miss the opportunity,” Professor Mamun Al Mahtab said, adding, “Immediately after taking the shots, we went to work, saw patients, and participated in talk-shows. Some of our colleagues at the hospital also told us that they were absolutely fine.”
Dr. Mahtab Al Mamun is well-acquainted with running clinical trials for vaccines. He acted as the Principal Investigator of the Phase-I/II and III clinical trials of NASVAC, the first drug to be developed and registered in Bangladesh. He has dedicated a portion of his already busy schedule to carrying out trial for the homegrown vaccine candidate for Coronavirus Bangavax. However, when Covid-19 was at its peak in June 2020, Dr. Mamun and Dr. Nuzhat along with their son had contracted the virus. They recovered within a month, through perseverance and most importantly by being one another’s pillar of support. On the occasion of the recent Valentine’s Day, they were awarded as a “Power-Couple” by Global Business CSR for their excellent contribution to the community as a couple.
The couple met back in 1990 for the first time at their alma mater – Mymensingh Medical College. Nuzhat Choudhury was back then a fresher and Mamun Al Mahtab a first professional examinee. They have been happily married since April 5, 1996 and are blessed with two children. Although their origin stories are quite different in nature, their love for work and compassion towards their countrymen so happens to be identical.
Here are the remarkable and distinct stories of two virtuous doctors – Prof. Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil) and Prof. Dr. Nuzhat Choudhury (Shampa).
PROF. DR. NUZHAT CHOUDHURY
Nuzhat Choudhury is younger of the two daughters of Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury and Shyamali Nasreen Chaudhury. Dr. Alim Chaudhury was one of the intellectuals who were martyred on the eve of the independence of Bangladesh. Dr. Nuzhat was only two years old when she lost her father in the genocide. Dr. Alim Chaudhury was one of the finest ophthalmologists of his time. He was actively involved in both the language movement and the liberation war. His chamber used to be a safe haven for freedom fighters seeking shelter. On December 15, 1971, Dr. Alim was taken from their Purana Paltan residence by members of the Al-Badr. His dead body was later recovered from Rayerbazar mass grave. Dr. Abdul Alim Chaudhury, along with all the martyrs of our liberation war, is greatly respected as our national hero. Dr. Nuzhat Choudhury’s mother, Shyamali Nasreen Chaudhury is an eminent educationist, is the founder principal of Uddipon Biddalaya. She had served as the principal of Udayan School before that. For her contribution in education sector, Shyamali Chaudhury was awarded the prestigious Ekushey Padak in the year 2001.
Growing up in a household with a mother as an educationist and a late father who was a physician, Nuzhat Choudhury had made up her mind from an early age to become an Ophthalmologist. They say, like father, like daughter. She respected her father’s ideology and in order to honor him, chose to follow his footsteps. After completing her MBBS from Mymensingh Medical College, she went on to finish her MS in Ophthalmology from BSMMU. Then she went on to do her fellowship in Vitreo-Retina from Ispahani eye hospital and LV Prasad eye institute, India. Currently she is a Professor at the Department of Ophthalmology at BSMMU. She herself is a revolutionary woman who has been fighting tirelessly to bring the war criminals of 1971 to justice. All the struggles that she had to face growing up and the pain, she channeled it instead to bring about change in the society. As a daughter of a Martyr, she takes great pride in being a Bangladeshi. As a doctor is she not only treats he patients compassionately but also works tirelessly to increase awareness of a blinding disease of neonates called ROP, which makes premature children go blind. At the same time, being a conscious citizen of the civil society, she is committed to help keep Bangladesh firmly on the path of the ideals of ’71. She is one of the founders of Projonmo’71, an organization of children of the martyrs of ’71. She is currently the Assistant General Secretary of Ekattorer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee. On the professional front she is currently the Organising Secretary of Ophthalmological Society of Bangladesh (OSB). She is also an executive committee member of Women Ophthalmologists Worldwide (WOW), a global platform of women ophthalmologists.
PROF. DR. MAMUN AL MAHTAB
He was born on August 22, 1970 to the late Mahtab Uddin Ahmed and Ayesha Mahtab pair. Mahbtab Uddin was a prominent civil engineer who served the Government of Bangladesh in the capacity of Chief Engineer in the Roads and Highways Department. Mamun Al Mahtab spent his early life in Dhaka having completed his schooling and college from Banani Bidyaniketan and Dhaka College respectively. For his undergraduate, he joined Mymensingh Medical College before going on to complete his MSc in Gastroenterology from the University of London. In 2006, he finished his MD in Hepatology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Dr. Mahtab thinks it was his fate as he ended up studying about liver. The first item he had received for his card examination was the organ liver and during his Anatomy examination of his first prof; he also had liver. Not only that, during his final prof, he had a liver cirrhosis patient as his long case in Medicine. During his training at BSMMU, he realized that Hepatology was not just theoretical. A world of opportunities for research opened up for him on pursuing Hepatology, which prompted him further to study and work towards doing extraordinary things.
As of now, he is working as Chairman at the Department of Hepatology in BSMMU. He is also a visiting Professor at the Department of Gastroenterology & Metabology of Ehime University, Japan and Department of Gastroenterology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh, India. In addition to that, he is also a PhD thesis co-supervisor and PhD examiner of the University of Malaya, Malaysia, Tehran University, Iran, University of Madras and Dr. A.P.J. Abul Kalam Technical University, India, and the University of Dhaka and the University of Rajshahi in Bangladesh.
Initially he had chosen to study at a medical college as per his parents’ desire. He had already been socially active and politically aware from his early days. With time he began realizing the nobility of the profession he was about to enter and the responsibility that came along with it. He believes his responsibilities are not only limited to his medical patients. Hence, he puts in hard work day in and out for the betterment of the nation. Naturally, he is patriotic and idealizes the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
He was a born leader and spent his days at Mymensingh Medical College involved in student politics through which he came to community aid. This was something that later on helped him in life as he went on to find and lead several associations and organizations, many of which are one of its kinds here in Bangladesh.
Professor Mahtab played key role in organizing the First Padma-Ganga-Gumti Liver Conference 2019 at BSMMU in Dhaka. This was the first ever scientific conference of only Bengali Hepatologists. It was organized as a token of respect of the Bengali Hepatologists to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the occasion of his birth centennial. In 2020, the conference was organized online. He has pioneered plasma exchange therapy for live failure which proved to be of utmost importance in saving lives.
He also organized the first ever STEMCON back in 2017. Ever since, STEMCON takes place on December 26 at BSMMU in the presence of stem cell specialists from all over the world. Due to being a member of the Emergency Use Authorization Committee of the Drug Administration, Dr. Mamun had the opportunity to look into the 9,000-page dossier submitted for the approval of the Covishield vaccine in Bangladesh due to his involvement in the emergency registration process of this vaccine in the country.
High hopes revolved around Covishield which was developed by Serum Institute of India Limited, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Having worked in close association with them, Dr. Mamun had a great deal of confidence in the vaccine for it to provide millions of Bangladeshis immunity against Covid-19. He considers himself to be lucky for being involved in the process of availing Covishield for Bangladesh. Dr Mahtab says, “The tie between the two countries post and pre independence is the reason we could obtain the vaccine early. Countries like USA, Canada and Italy that invested earlier on in the trial process are still meanwhile on the waiting list.”
Having worked previously on another breakthrough vaccine (NASVAC), he is highly experienced in the field. He is a celebrated member of the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Hepatitis B and C Virus in South-East Asia. The advanced levels of the clinical trials of NASVAC were conducted in different countries in Asia, Latin America, and Australia and in the Asia Pacific region. NASVAC is so far registered in Bangladesh, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Belarus and Angola.Globe Biotech has finally sought permission from the Directorate General of Drug Administration on January 6 to start manufacturing the vaccine for its clinical trial. Prof Mamun Al Mahtab is the principal investigator of this trial and is ready with a big team of researchers to run tests to examine the safety and efficacy of Bangavax. He said it is indeed a promising candidate.