During the worst days and months of the COVID-19 pandemic the calm and compassionate face and the reassuring voice of Dr. Saqib Shahab became familiar to everyone in Saskatchewan. As the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Shahab has been on the front line in explaining the public health response to the pandemic in both scientific and human terms.
Dr. Shahab received his primary medical degree from Rawalpindi Medical College at the University of Punjab in 1986, graduating at the top of his class. He initially trained in Internal Medicine and became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians UK. While practicing as an internist he realized the value of public health in preventing both communicable and non-communicable diseases and attained a Masters of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University, and after completing his training at the University of Alberta was named a Fellow in Public Health and Preventive Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada. He is a past Chair of the Medical Health Officers Council of Saskatchewan and past president of the Saskatchewan Public Health Association.
During his career Dr. Shahab has worked internationally as an internist and public health specialist. He has written and presented widely on a diverse range of issues including emerging issues such as West Nile Virus, climate change and public health, using software to facilitate collaboration among health care professionals, drinking water quality, the social conditions and nutritional status of street children and the characteristics of road traffic injuries seen in emergency rooms.
Drawing on his experience during the pandemic he was the keynote presenter at the Saskatchewan Health Research Showcase in November 2020 and presented the Louis and Elly Christ Lecture in September 2021 at the Family Medicine Conference, Saskatchewan. His areas of special interest - vaccination programs, communicable disease control, environmental health, chronic disease prevention and pandemic planning - have prepared him well for the very public role he was thrust into in March 2020. He was appointed Chief Medical Health Officer in 2012, having served in the Deputy role for three years before that. Prior to that he was the Medical Health Officer for the Sunrise Health Region in southeast Saskatchewan from 2001 to 2006.
Asked what kept him going through the pandemic, with its anguished stories and the continual updates about the toll COVID-19 was taking, Dr. Shahab said it was recognizing that we were all in this together, and that behind every story of loss and hardship were tales of courage and community spirit that truly embody the Saskatchewan way. “That is what put wind in my sails each and every day.”
Regarding the honorary degree from the University of Regina, Dr. Shahab said the University, through the many public events and lectures that it hosts, embodies the role that centres of learning play in contributing to the communities they serve. “It is a unique honour, and especially for persons who have come from away, it embodies what it means to be Canadian, to be accepted and recognized in this fashion.”