Dr. Faridoon Setna: OB-GYN and champion of women’s empowerment

Today on Mother’s Day we pay tribute to Dr. Faridoon Setna, the renowned Pakistani obstetrician and gynecologist who, through his work at Lady Dufferin Hospital in Kharadar, and as the director of the Concept Fertility Center, helped so many women become mothers through affordable IVF.

Picture taken from Dawn’s obituary of Dr. Setna

Dr. Setna passed away yesterday in Karachi after a brief illness. He was in his 80s, but up until his death remained an easily recognizable figure, with his gentle manner, amiable smile, and the constant companionship of his wife Dinar.

Dr. Setna returned to Pakistan in 1966, after his training in the UK. “I had to survive on a salary of Rs. 600 a month for six years. It was unacceptable as a young male gynecologist,” he related in an interview with Hello Pakistan.

He was known for being the gynecologist of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was pregnant with her first child while she held office. Bhutto later tasked Setna, along with Dr. Sadiqa Jaffery and senior midwife Imtiaz Kamal, with reducing the high level of maternal mortality in Pakistan. They headed the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health, which still operates today.

Benazir Bhutto’s daughter Bakhtawar pays tribute to Dr. Setna

Over his fifty year career, Dr. Setna was a staunch supporter of midwives, or dais, as they are known in South Asia. He introduced cervical cancer inoculations for young women. He revamped the Lady Dufferin Hospital which was in one of the most ramshackle parts of town. He helped rich and poor alike to become parents through his specialization in high risk pregnancies and complex infertility cases.

Dr. Setna believed that infertility was “a hidden disease” in Pakistan. However, the burden of that disease has always been disproprotionately shouldered by women, who are usually blamed when a couple fails to conceive a child. Dr. Setna said that 30% of infertility was caused by male infertility, and always urged both men and women to get tested.

He played a large part in reducing the stigma that Pakistani men feel about infertility testing, by treating it as a medical problem, not a judgment on a man’s virility. Perhaps because he was a male doctor himself, men felt more comfortable admitting to such problems, and were more willing to undergo fertility tests.

When Dr. Setna retired, he left his practice in the capable hands of his son, Dr. Zeryab Setna, but continued to consult at the Concept Fertility Center for many years. We will miss this national icon, health pioneer, and champion of women’s empowerment. I think the government should award him the Sitara e Imtiaz, if it hasn’t already (and if it has, please let me know in the comments).

Thank you, Dr. Setna, for all that you did, for mothers and fathers and children in Pakistan.