Dr. Gamal Serour was relatively new to Al-Azhar University when he was invited to an international meeting that would change the course of the young physician’s career and assist him in working in numerous countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to improve reproductive health practice and care.
A 34-year-old lecturer in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, he accompanied his department chair, Dr. Fouad I. Hefnawi, to Jhpiego’s Geneva meeting on contemporary reproductive health that was hosted by Dr. Howard W. Jones, Jhpiego’s first director. Within two weeks, Serour found himself in Baltimore at Hopkins (with his pregnant wife), working alongside Jones, Ted Baramki and other prominent physicians who helped launch Jhpiego.
He remained in Baltimore for a month. That was 34 years ago.
“At the end of the meetings, Howard told me, ‘Gamal, we want to establish a center for training for Asia and Africa and we will have it at Al-Azhar and you will be the director,’” Serour recalled during a recent interview at the 2010 Women Deliver conference in Washington, D.C.
It was the start of an illustrious career for Serour—he is serving now as president of FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, which has a close relationship with Jhpiego.
Upon Serour’s return to Cairo in 1976, he and his chairman began planning for the reproductive health training center they would open at Al-Azhar to educate obstetricians, gynecologists and nurses from the Africa and Asia region in the latest techniques and equipment. Their training partner was the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics (JHPIEGO), a founding name and acronym that have been outgrown and replaced with Jhpiego.
The center would host trainings four times a year for 10 to 20 physicians and nurses. After the clinicians returned to their home countries, Serour would make follow-up visits to their hospitals and institutions to check on their practical skills and would install a laparoscope (an instrument for visualizing internal reproductive organs) that Jhpiego had donated.
“It was a great program, conducted for [a] large number of years. We trained more than 400, from Egypt and all over Asia and Africa,” says Serour, a former dean of the medical school at Al-Azhar.
During his association with Jhpiego, Serour gave lectures on the latest reproductive health techniques at the medical institutions he visited and much of the new information he discussed was later integrated into their curricula.
“So indeed Jhpiego helped Al-Azhar in spreading the modern management of infertility and fertility all over Asia and Africa,” says Serour, who is now 68 and the father of three children.
As advances in reproductive health treatment occurred, Al-Azhar continued its relationship with Jhpiego and provided training in laparoscopic surgery to obstetricians and gynecologists so they could manage removals of cysts, tubal obstructions and adhesions more effectively for patients in their countries.
Over the years, while attending conferences and professional meetings, Serour says he has often run into former students from Nepal, Turkey, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who remind him of their Jhpiego-supported training and its role in helping them help other professionals in their countries learn new skills and strengthen health care delivery.
“Dr. Gamal Serour was one of Jhpiego’s visionaries and champions for improved reproductive health for women from the earliest days of our program,” says Ron Magarick, a Jhpiego veteran and Director of Global Programs.
“He championed new technical interventions in reproductive health in Egypt and elsewhere and had a significant impact in numerous countries around the world in educating generations of health professionals. His leadership capacity was recognized by FIGO in his election as President.”
Serour remained the director of the Jhpiego program until 1990, when Al- Azhar, the oldest Islamic university in the world, tapped him to be the head of its International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research.
Through the years, he says he has come to know well the leaders of Jhpiego, from its founder, Dr. Theodore King, to the current President and CEO, Dr. Leslie Mancuso.
“Jhpiego has played a major role in spreading knowledge, skills and providing assistance for . . . [improving] the reproductive health for a huge number of patients in the region,’’ says Serour. “It was very thrilling, very rewarding and very well appreciated.”