Prof Dr Anwar Gilani is eminent Pharmacologist, completed his Graduation in Agriculture and Masters in Pharmacology from UAF. He took merit scholarship and went to University of Sydney, Australia to complete his PhD degree in Pharmacology. He has breakthrough international award winning discovery to his credit. Also he is recipient of civil award. Dr Anwar entails rich experience of more than 30 years of academia in both public and private sector universities. He produced more than 20 leading PhDs of the country. Dr Anwar shared his thoughts in a recent interview with Technology Times

Science and Technology are potential drivers of knowledge

What you feel about your international recognition?

I firmly believe that my hard work has paid off and by the grace of Allah Almighty I have been able to recognize myself at International level. Also I nodded to take the opportunity to join World Health Organization (WHO) as Technical Committee Advisor. And I co-authored two WHO books on important fields of essential medicine which were widely accredited by international community of scientists.

What is the crux of your discoveries?

The axis of my research was to make use of indigenous medicine addressing healthcare issues through affordability and effectivity. At that time it was considered to be old fashioned but now it is a top level research on international level.

I’m extremely in favor of Integrated medicine for better healthcare, because if you want to address the health issues and chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes etc. there is no other better solution than herbal medicine/functional foods along with life-style modification. I am absolutely clear that the pills used as remedy are not to cure the majority of chronic diseases but if life styles of people are remodeled that can help a great deal in coping with such chronic diseases and my main focus is educating people in that.

What are the merits of essential medicine?

Essential medicine in this field is primarily the rational use of medicine. I believe it is the worthy solution of health sector fiascos in Pakistan. WHO has given a very clear policy for healthcare purposes that is to use medicine rationally.

There are different components of medicinal use i.e. efficacy, safety, affordability, and availability. I remained part of technical experts committee WHO, who is responsible to enlist the essential medicines which are relatively safe, affordable, and on top of that available in open markets. If a drug is very effective but not affordable then it will not be considered as essential medicine because of lack of its access.

How can we promote essential medicine?

WHO has come up with the idea of promotion of essential medicine and that was my area of interest as well. The idea was to promote the indigenous cheap effective medicines as 3/4th of the world population heavily relies upon those traditional, complementary and alternative medicines for cure of several diseases.

WHO also published a book in year 2005 title as Global Atlas of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine and I consider myself fortunate to author the chapter on Pakistan in that book which is “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. The concept of ‘Health for All’ is growing at rapid pace and to attain that affordability enhancement is mandatory to ensure it.

What reforms in S&T policy should be made to obtain sustainable results?

I will add a bit more to it; in fact it should be S&T and innovative policy. We can only progress when S&T will be compounded by innovation. When we compare Pakistan with International market we see that there is a much competition in the market. Innovation can add value to the product while shedding its cost to make it competitive in the global market.

Academia-industry close coordination is also important for revival of S&T sector. But unfortunately this linkage is missing or not at an adequate level in our country. It is certain that present day era is of knowledge economy and technology is imperative to adapt. While innovation remains the key component that can drive our economy up to the desire level. Japan, China, Singapore and Korea are the plain examples of knowledge based economy which relied on innovation and technology for making their economic stature great.

How PCST strategically plans and monitor R&D activities?

PCST invites different stakeholders; take them on board by taking their valuable input. One of the mandates of PCST is to maintain authentic and updated data on S&T indicators in order to devise policies which could impart maximum effectivity. We are sharing data with various concern departments which assist them in planning.

What are the major problems that halt R&D activities in Pakistan?

There are number of challenges that S&T organizations face. The first thing is insufficient funding for S&T sector. This issue is not only Pakistan’s limitation, but extends to OIC Muslim countries. The funding issue needs addressal because economic growth of any country depends upon the scientific advancements.

I am of the view that country is facing economic set back due to which S&T sector is not nurturing at desired level, as long as reinforcement in S&T sector is done, viable results would be produced without an iota of doubt because we are no short of expertise and talented brains.

The incumbent government has taken good measures by appointing senior renowned scientists in various S&T organizations which reflects the seriousness of the government but this initiative can go waste if necessary funding is no provided to R and D organizations.

I am hopeful that gradually we will head towards science and technology progression. The media also need to focus on science and technology promotion and changing of mindset of people is also fundamentally important. The education system must encourage innovation and creativity.

What measures PCST is taking in order to ensure impact of scientific research and its promotion?

PCST under the patronage of Ministry of Science and Technology steps to bring scientific community, academia, industry and the stakeholders to make such policies for development of S&T while keeping interest of all parties intact. By bridging academia-industry gap, the research impact will certainly boost. The training of researchers to conduct problem solving research can be the game changer and industry also needs to invest in R&D sector to bring innovation and find local solution to the problems.

The Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) must focus on industrial linkages and modify their curriculum considering industrial demands. As well as, the industry needs incentives for collaboration with academia. Having mandate to maintain the data of productive scientists, we plan to include the expertise of productive scientists in the directory of productive scientists. Similarly, we are in process of identifying problems of the industry, and placing both on PCST website would help for match making between academia and industry.

Is the curriculum of universities catering the industrial needs?

The fundamental problem is the worn out curriculum in academia that does not cater the need of industry. We need to redesign a curriculum to account for industrial needs. HEC can play part in curriculum designing by getting inputs from industry.

PCST mulls to practically bridge the academia, industry gap through series of workshops across the country. These workshops are already in process. PCST has also devised a mechanism as in its new criteria the weightage is given to the patents or developing crop varieties. Similarly, if weightage is given to patents and productive collaborations with industry as part of the criteria for promotions, it would certainly help to shift our research to applied nature.

Is PCST also focusing on scientometric and futuristic studies? What is the major breakthrough of PCST in this regard?

Scientometric studies are one of the core areas of PCST; it is responsible to acquire and maintain upgraded and authenticated science and technology related data. The sources of data are different R&D organizations; moreover, PCST is collecting data about scientists which is regularly updating. We are focusing to improve and expand our database for creation of thinks tanks. In order to account for different national challenges by improving the coordination and channelizing the scientific fraternity of Pakistan.

How PCST impacts on policy making?

PCST identifies think tanks at national level and brings them together through various seminars, conferences, and other events; sets a clear target for them and compile reports and providing solutions for different national level challenges. PCST is responsible to prepare agenda for policy level meetings of government. The present leadership at the Ministry of Science and Technology is showing keen interest to make PCST proactive in advising government in policy making.

PCST is the secretariat of National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST). And Prime Minister of Pakistan is the head of NCST. NCST is committed to facilitate the next meeting of the Executive Committee for National Commission for Science and Technology hopefully within a few months, which will form the basis of NCST meeting to address the pending issues.

How the goal of S&T popularization could be attained?

The grass root level initiatives must be taken for S&T popularization. Educating community on the value of science is imperative to attain the objective. Incentivizing the underprivileged talent can bring a stream of skilled human capital in mainstream S&T sector of the country.

The scientists must visit frequently in schools and provide awareness to children on science. This way, we can instill the inspiration in young generation. Media also has to play a key role in S&T popularization and think beyond the commercial benefit and ratings.

What is your message for youth?

I strongly urge youth not to look for shortcuts. They need to have some ambition in life and should keep working hard. And rewards will automatically come by their way. In this era of IT, one cannot ignore the contributions of scientists. The aim should not be publishing most number of research papers. But focus must be on quality work with potential of application/commercialization.

The youth often sobs the scarcity of opportunities for their lagging in research; how we can address this?

Research is a team work, no matter what the venue. It is the ability to involve others in your research. It forces you to seek help from here and there. The collaborations can open up new avenues for youth. Hardship is certainly an opportunity which youth must cash in order to survive in the long run. I am the example of this as I have gone through several hardships to attain the level I am today. The hardships and challenges helped me to grow professionally and proved to be blessing in disguise.

What are your comments about Technology Times and Tech TV?

Technology Times is doing a spectacular job in current dismal circumstances. The promotion of S & T at community level is certainly a tough job. And the efforts of Technology Times and Tech TV in this regard are undeniable. I vividly admire the vision of Technology Times because S & T with innovation is the ultimate solution to every problem and any venture promoting the vision is doing a noble job.