Dr Salma Sultana made every Bangladeshi proud when she was listed among the top 100 Asian scientists in the Asian Scientist magazine.
The magazine compiled a list of Asia's most outstanding researchers and she stood eighth among them.
This success did not happen overnight; it required sleepless nights of intensive studying, sacrifices such as turning down full-fledged scholarships, and deep passion to learn more about science.
"When I was in my third year of university, my pet rabbit became extremely sick. He was taken to the hospital but they could not detect his problems. And unfortunately we lost him.
That was a life changing moment for me when I decided that I will develop myself as a veterinarian and work relentlessly to study livestock science", she shared with The Business Standard.
Dr Salma is a veterinarian; the first female entrepreneur, professional trainer, and development worker in the country's livestock sector.
She has also written books in Bangla on parasitic profile, basic concept of pharmacology, rural livestock, and poultry production.
"I was born in Sirajganj, Bangladesh. However, my father was a banker and for that we had to frequently move from one city to another. My mother has been my ultimate source of
motivation. In fact, she was the one who advised me to get into veterinary college instead of the University of Dhaka," she said.
Dr Sultana received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU).
She earned a Master's degree in Pharmacology in 2014 from CVASU.
She got her postgraduate clinical training at the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.
While working on her Master's degree, she started research on antimicrobial activities of medicinal plants and their anthelmintic (anti-parasitic) efficacy.
Dr Salma Sultana founded a vocational training institute named 'Model Livestock Institute Dhaka' that is affiliated with Bangladesh Technical Education Board in 2015.
She said, "Before 2015, there was no vocational training institute and qualified manpower in the livestock sector in Bangladesh, except for veterinarian training. I was one of the first to provide institutional training to educated unemployed youths."
The training institute provides one year certificate courses on animal health and production, and poultry farming to unemployed youths, entrepreneurs, and farmers.
There are other short-tailored training programmes on dairy farm management, animal caregiving, hatchery management, artificial insemination etc.
There is also a veterinary hospital which is engaged with various treatments and services for domestic animals, pet animals and birds. It includes a small laboratory for facilitating evidence based health services.
"Initially we observed that the majority bringing in their livestock could not even pay Tk50 for treatment. So we tried to solve their problems for free as much as possible because for some of them, their livelihood depended on these animals. Sadly, we began to face a financial struggle and we decided to turn the organisation into an NGO and smoothen our operations by getting funds," she explained.
The Model Livestock Advancement Foundation (MLAF) formed in 2016 is registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860.
It works on farmer's awareness, food safety, zoonosis and antimicrobial resistance, sustainable youth employment, and animal rights.
Dr Salma said, "My organisation gives its 100% to solve the issues of farmers, because we know how to show empathy. We included the lab to provide results based on scientific evidence. Medicines without proper research might affect innocent animals and their owners."
"Furthermore, MLAF is solely dedicated to creating awareness about modern farming. Increased animal production will result in increased meat, eggs, and dairy production. But we need to ensure that the protein or dairy we are consuming are antibiotic-free. Existence of antibiotics and other harmful substances can be avoided if farmers adopt modern farming techniques," she added.
She informed us that they have provided animal health support to more than 10,000 farmers, produced around 1,000 entrepreneurs and modern farmers, created 300 livestock services providers and developed awareness on zoonosis and food borne diseases among 5,000 students and 200 butchers.
She further told us why this intervention is necessary. "In 2012, while I started working professionally as a field veterinarian, I realised that there is a significant gap between the availability and the demand for animal health services in the rural and peri-urban areas. Farmers, whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on their livestock, cannot afford treatment, and thus they sometimes resort to untrained village doctors or treating the animals on their own."
"Consequently, the animals become resistant to drugs including antimicrobials. Humans too are becoming multidrug resistant as a result of their consumption of animal products, which can be life-threatening for them in the coming years. Then I realised that if educated, unemployed youths could be trained in this field, it could not only reduce monetary losses for farmers, but more importantly, create employment," she went on.
She shared some plans regarding what they aim to do in future. However, she also added that there are still many obstacles.
She said, "We want to extend this service to all over Bangladesh. Our capacity is limited now, we are not always able to reach out to all the needy farmers. We also dream to have a veterinary hospital with all modern facilities and a rescue centre in our hospital but the financial constraints are an issue here."
Over the years we have seen an increase in participation of women in STEM fields. Nonetheless it is still limited compared to the number of male participants.
On this, Dr Salma elaborated, "The role of women is essential in every sector and still their contribution is largely unrecognised; as a result, women benefit less from outreach and extension services and face more difficulties than men in gaining access to resources."
"Essentially, gender equality is an important issue in science and technology. Inequalities in resource control and access between men and women create widespread inefficiency in development. Women are not given much support for higher education which is why there are so few women in STEM fields," she added.
Dr Salma Sultana's achievements include the '2020 Norman E Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application' from the World Food Prize Foundation, Covid-19 Fighter
International Honors-2020, International Arch of Europe, Youth Icon Award 2018, Joy Bangla Youth Award 2017, Mother Teresa Award and many more.
"I never had any ambition or goal in the past; I do not have any at present. But there is one thing I am certain of, before I die, I want to do something great for the people," she concluded.