Intended for healthcare professionals


Zafrullah Chowdhury: surgeon, freedom fighter, and innovator in rural healthcare in Bangladesh

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 27 April 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p921
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

He was nearly kicked out of medical school, but Zafrullah Chowdhury, a vascular surgeon, went on to co-found Bangladesh’s first hospital, train paramedics in a pioneering programme that became the backbone of rural healthcare, and reform the country’s anarchic pharmaceutical policy—resulting in the ban of around 1700 drugs.

Chowdhury freely admitted that his “mischief” as general secretary of the Dhaka Medical College students’ union, was “nothing short of alarming.” Describing himself as part of “a highly charged political pressure cooker,” he ran a press conference to “expose corruption” at the hospital.

Liberation war

There were more fireworks to come. When the Bangladesh liberation war broke out in March 1971, he and a colleague, M A Mobin, burnt their Pakistani passports at Hyde Park in London in a protest against the country.

They then flew to Delhi with Indian travel permits—weeks before they were to sit exams for the Royal College of Surgeons. The plane stopped for several hours in Damascus, where a Pakistani colonel was waiting to detain “the two absconding Pakistani citizens.” They thwarted him. Unlike the other passengers they remained on the plane, an international zone beyond the colonel’s jurisdiction.

They helped to establish the country’s first hospital for freedom fighters. Built with bamboo and wood, the makeshift hospital outside Dhaka opened with …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription