The Aga Khan Visits UCSF to Strengthen Partnership to Advance Global Health

By Juliana Bunim

The Aga Khan and Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, explore the living roof of the new the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building.

His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader (Imam) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, visited the University of California, San Francisco on April 26 to gain insight into the driving forces behind UCSF’s excellence in research and education, and to deepen the partnership between UCSF and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). He was also awarded the UCSF Medal, the University’s equivalent of an honorary degree, by Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH.

As founder and chairman of the AKDN, the Aga Khan has been deeply engaged with the advancement of vulnerable populations of Asia and Africa for more than 50 years. The AKDN works in more than 30 countries to improve living conditions and opportunities through education and economic and social development.

The Aga Khan visited two of the most recent additions to the Parnassus campus: the 74,000-square-foot stem cell research building, which is designed to foster intensive collaboration and a cross-pollination of ideas among scientists representing a broad spectrum of labs and disciplines, and the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), the 22,000-square-foot, high-tech educational center dedicated to interprofessional education.

At the TLC, the Aga Khan and Aga Khan University President Firoz Rasul explored the simulation suites, including the four-bed inpatient unit stocked with simulated people – $80,000 training mannequins that have heartbeats, can be intubated, can go into shock and even shed tears.


As one of the agencies of the AKDN, Aga Khan University (AKU) is a private, autonomous university that promotes human welfare through research, teaching and community service. Based on the principles of quality, access, impact and relevance, the university has campuses and programs in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Its facilities include teaching hospitals, nursing schools and a medical college, institutes for educational development, and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations.

“In developing civil society, education and health care are absolutely critical,” said the Aga Khan as he accepted the UCSF Medal. “And in developing civil society, we are not trying to bring mediocrity to the developing world. “We are trying to do exactly what UCSF is doing, which is to bring quality and excellence. And we cannot do that without partners. At the same time, UCSF needs to reach out to the world at large. I hope that the Aga Khan Development Network will be one of your partners.”

The Aga Khan joins Haile Debas (left), senior global health advisor and chancellor emeritus and Tippi MacKenzie (right), a pediatric surgeon, to learn about the latest strategies for treating cogenital stem cell disorders before birth.

The partnership between AKU and UCSF dates back to 2006, when AKU’s family medicine program in Tanzania and the Aga Khan Health Services program in East Africa began working with UCSF’s Global Health Sciences to strengthen AKU’s training and research program in family medicine based in Dar es Salaam. Residents and visiting faculty from UCSF have helped AKU develop training modules for HIV/AIDS care and seminars on topics relevant to family medicine.

UCSF has also collaborated with AKU School of Nursing to develop a midwifery program by providing technical assistance on module and specialty course development, evaluation and monitoring, and faculty development.

“Partnerships such as this one are a unique opportunity to improve the quality, access and integration of health care in the less privileged parts of the world,” said Rasul. “Together, we can establish new training programs, strengthen health systems and build capacity in primary health care.”

In 2009, a memorandum of understanding between Aga Khan University and UCSF was signedto advance their common goal of promoting equitable human advancement and social justice in the less privileged parts of the world. The agreement focuses on cooperating to develop primary health care models across East Africa and Asia, with the goal of reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality. The memorandum also envisages the development of human resources for health care through formal education programs and capacity building as well as research in stem cell biology.

“Aga Khan and his network have done such remarkable development work across the world, especially in Asia and East Africa, and we’re delighted to play a part in spreading our knowledge throughout the world with partners like him,” said Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Since early 2010, AKU and UCSF have begun developing an integrated primary health care model that would train health professionals, especially at the primary health care level, in family medicine, nursing and midwifery. A test site has been selected in Kenya’s Coast Province and an exploratory visit to set up a corresponding pilot study in Chitral, Pakistan, is planned for this year.

For both AKU and UCSF, the broader partnership brings together many areas of mutual interest, including research, policy, clinical skills, student and faculty exchanges, and human resources development, through formal education programs and capacity building.

The Kanbar Center at the Teaching and Learning Center is focused on developing clinical skills through simulation.

“With this partnership, the University of California, San Francisco’s internationally recognized expertise will be able to impact parts of the world that would not otherwise benefit from these capabilities,” said Rasul. “Two-way partnerships such as this one build capacity in the developing world, where it is needed most. But more importantly, they enable innovation and the creation of knowledge across our globalizing world.”

Following his afternoon visit on the Parnassus campus, the Aga Khan was one of three individuals honored with the prestigious UCSF Medal at the annual Founders Day banquet that evening.

The UCSF Medal, first awarded in 1975, is the University’s equivalent of an honorary degree. While not restricted to individuals who have an association with UCSF, the award recognizes outstanding personal contributions in areas associated with the University’s fourfold mission, such as providing top-quality patient care, improving understanding of the factors that affect human health and serving the community.

The 2011 UCSF Medal recipients are:
  • His Highness the Aga Khan, founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network
  • Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, Nobel laureate and Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology, UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Marvin H. Sleisenger, MD, professor of medicine emeritus and Distinguished Physician in the US Department of Veterans Affairs