Dr Shahla T. Sohail: A role model for women with bleeding disorders

After being told their daughter had an ‘abnormal bleeding disorder’, Dr Sohail’s parents were determined that she would go on to live an independent and successful life. Now a doctor specialising in bleeding disorders, Dr Sohail is dedicated to ensuring women affected by bleeding disorders in Pakistan are empowered to overcome the challenges associated with the condition.

Being told their daughter had an ‘abnormal’ condition was initially devastating for Dr Sohail’s parents, but they soon decided to dedicate their energy to ensuring she would live a fulfilled life. They enrolled her into a good school and focused on building her confidence so she could follow her dream of becoming a doctor. Living with a bleeding disorder meant that every time she had a bleed, Dr Sohail had to go to the hospital to receive treatment, often remaining there for days until she was well enough to return home. But she successfully completed her education and travelled to the UK as part of her medical training.

Global differences in bleeding disorders care

It was during her time in the UK that, 20 years after her parents were first told she had a bleeding disorder, Dr Sohail received a definitive diagnosis of type III von Willebrand disease. It was also at that time that she saw evidence that people with bleeding disorders could live a normal life.

It therefore came as a shock when Dr Sohail returned to Pakistan to find that bleeding disorders care remained limited. “There was still no care for persons with bleeding disorders, whether they were boys or girls,” she recalls. A desire to change this led Dr Sohail and a group of peers and colleagues to establish Hemophilia Foundation – Pakistan (HFP).

A close community of support

Twenty years on, Dr Sohail plays a key role in the Hemophilia Patients Welfare Society, one of HFP’s chapters, focusing particularly on counselling and empowering women affected by bleeding disorders. Having known many of these women since childhood in her capacity as a paediatrician, Dr Sohail is now a source of guidance and support beyond her medical role: “These girls have grown up with me and over the years they have started to consider me as a role model. I do my best to support them, including acting as a family counsellor, genetic counsellor, psycho-social counsellor and they can come to me for anything that bothers them and discuss it with me because we are all very close,” she explains.

Establishing a national women’s group

The HFP established a national women’s group through the NNHF Pakistan 6 project in 2017. The group aims to ensure that girls and women receive early, accurate diagnosis, leading to better health outcomes and to provide women affected by bleeding disorders with the education, support and skills to advocate for their health and social support needs.

Describing her role in the group, Dr Sohail says, “Girls or women with bleeding disorders in Pakistan, as elsewhere in the world, are facing a struggle. At this point in time I would like to strive and make these young girls and women feel that there is no challenge for them in this disorder, that instead they can take it along with them and live a life in comfort.”