A man for all seasons
There are certain, rare individuals who light up a room when they enter and immediately create a sense of trust. Dr Sabir Kurbanov is such a person. With his quiet dignity and distinguished countenance, he represents the best that UNICEF has to offer.
Dr Sabir, as he is known to everyone, is one of UNICEF Tajikistan's longest serving staff members. With an MD and PhD in pediatrics, he brings to the UN system a rich and varied background. Educated in Moscow during the Soviet era, he was a medical professor for 12 years, head of the Research Centre in Dushanbe and the Ministry of Health's chief pediatrician.
Dr Sabir joined UNICEF at the height of the civil war. He sent his family to the safer northern provinces and stayed behind to help those to whom he had committed himself many years before as a medical student: children. In those early days, UNICEF was a small office with only two programme staff, himself and the emergency officer. He did it all. As assistant programme officer he was in charge of health education, water and sanitation, immunization services and the rehabilitation of health centres. Any one of those programmes would be a handful for one lone individual, but Dr Sabir managed them until the office was in a position to take on additional staff.
UNICEF Tajikistan was in emergency mode then, and conflict restricted movement throughout the country; reaching the children in need was difficult, if not impossible. Dr Sabir remembers well the problems of those years, especially the obstacles in conducting the diphtheria campaign such as the lack of transport and the shortage of qualified medical staff. This was Tajikistan's first big campaign, and it was a success. More than one million children were inoculated, reaching 95 per cent of the targeted group.
Although he has been promoted more than once and many of his responsibilities have now been delegated to other staff, Dr Sabir still finds time to visit the field and keep in contact with partners and beneficiaries: this is, after all, why he chose to leave the Ministry of Health and work with UNICEF. Nine years later, Dr Sabir is still bringing his brand of medicine and leadership to the country. He values his on-going contributions to the ministry and is building its capacity either as a protagonist in advocating for maternity hospitals to become "baby friendly", or as a pioneer in reaching as many children as possible, as soon as possible. A "healthy start in life" is more than just a slogan; it is a call to action.
With an average age of 28, UNICEF's office staff reflect the country's youthful face. As a senior leader, Dr Sabir's knowledge is a bridge between UNICEF's past and future. He is a source of experience and wisdom for younger staff members and veterans alike.
Adapted from "Tajikistan", a publication of the UNICEF Tajikistan country office.