Despite years of prejudice, Dr. Mahwish Sharif, who is from a remote village in central Balochistan’s Kachi district, received a medical degree and was appointed the first doctor with hearing impairment in Balochistan, at Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital — the only health facility in the provincial capital, Quetta, for the treatment of respiratory and viral diseases.
The 29-year-old doctor dreamt of becoming a doctor as a child — even after she lost her hearing at age four due to sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL. It occurs after inner ear damage.
“I used to act as a doctor while playing with my brothers when I was a little girl,” Sharif told Arab News. “The white coat that doctors wear and the stethoscopes always inspired me.”
While her family supported her, Sharif’s graduation from Bolan Medical College in 2021 came after many long years of discrimination and insensitive comments even from faculty members.
“I found my teachers often complaining about my hearing disability,” she said. “Even in my last medical exams, they did not allow me to use hearing aids since they thought they were headphones.”
Recalling the instances of discrimination
Sharif recalled how shaken she was while sitting for an exam and reading the word “disabled” written by an examiner next to her name. She recalled another instance of discrimination when she was required to submit a permission letter to use a hearing aid for an exam she had sat for at the Balochistan University.
“I got the letter and when I went to the professor [to submit it], who was also head of the department of surgery, he saw me and asked my name,” she said. “I told him my name and he said ‘you can hear, you have submitted a fake letter’.”
Overcoming all obstacles
Sharif had “worked very hard” to overcome all obstacles, said Dr. Sadiq Baloch, the medical superintendent at the hospital, adding that he had never received any complaints about the doctor from her patients or their attendants.
“Mahwish has become a role model for our society where persons with disabilities are even marginalized by their own family members,” he told Arab News. “She has set a new precedent that people with disabilities can also fulfill their dreams.”
The director general of the provincial health department of Balochistan, Dr. Noor Qazi, called Sharif an inspiration. “While we have allocated a specific quota for persons with disabilities in the medical profession, Dr. Mahwish has fulfilled her dream of getting this job on merit and set a new precedent for others,” he said.
Sharif wishes more parents would encourage their children to face “the challenges of the outside world” in the future and hopes to work to achieve equality for people with disabilities. After all, they are not disabled, they are just differently abled!
“Parents should allow them to develop other skills to live an independent life rather than a life of dependency,” Sharif said. “I am disabled myself and I want to give a message to all disabled people that don’t lose hope, but rather accept the challenge. Society will not let us excel until we strive for ourselves.”
In a country with approximately 10 million hearing-impaired citizens, Wamiq Hassan, Pakistan’s first deaf software engineer, developed an app to help deaf and hard-of-hearing Pakistanis, especially women, communicate more easily.
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