Inspirational Yemeni paediatrician Professor Najla Al-Sonboli returns to Liverpool for prestigious Leverhulme Lecture

News article 21 Jun 2024
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Professor Najla Al-Sonboli presented with the Leverhulme Medal by Professor David Lalloo

Inspirational paediatrician and healthcare leader Professor Najla Al-Sonboli has delivered Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s prestigious Leverhulme Lecture as part of its 125th anniversary public lecture series.

Professor Al-Sonboli, an LSTM alumna, returned to her former student city to give her first public lecture outside Yemen, where she is head of the Paediatric Department at Al-Sabeen Hospital for Maternity and Children in the city of Sana’a.

For the last eight years, she has led a team to deliver essential healthcare for extremely vulnerable children and babies amid ongoing war, disease outbreaks and severe food shortages. In recognition of this outstanding work, Professor Al-Sonboli has been recognised as a ‘Heroine for Health’ by the World Health Assembly.

Delivered to an audience of more than 100 people at Liverpool’s atmospheric Victoria Gallery & Museum and also streamed online, Professor Al-Sonboli’s lecture ‘Tragedy of War: partnerships and strategies to deliver essential health care to vulnerable Yemeni children and babies’ critically explored approaches to delivering health services in challenging environments.

You can watch her lecture in full by visiting our YouTube channel or by watching the video below.  During the lecture you will be exposed to some content which you may find distressing. There will be repeated references to war and conflict with first hand experiences of illness and trauma which are discussed.

She reflected on her ongoing partnership with LSTM, where she is a research collaborator and honorary graduate – telling the audience that she “never dreamed that one day I would be back at LSTM”. She also praised the support she has received in such challenging circumstances from local charity Habibti Liverpool and the wider community. As well as her clinical work, Professor Al-Sonboli is an active researcher in tuberculosis and human resources for health.

Following the lecture, Najla was presented with the Leverhulme Medal by LSTM Director Professor David Lalloo, who thanked her for inspirational work. “It is very difficult to imagine a more worthy awardee,” he said.

Alongside Najla, LSTM was also delighted to welcome back alumnus Dr Nasher A. Al-Aghbari, who was awarded his Masters (in paediatrics) and his PhD from  Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine/University of Liverpool. He is now Head of Paediatrics in the Emergency Department at Al-Thawra General Modern Teaching Hospital, Sana’a and Associate Professor, Paediatrics Department, Sana’a University.  He is an active researcher, working with the ReBUILD for Resilience consortium on healthcare workers’ experiences of working in conflict, and has published widely on access to quality tuberculosis and immunisation services.

Professor Najla Al-Sonboli said: “It is amazing to be back in Liverpool, after many years, meeting old and new colleagues and friends. I am proud to be LSTM alumna and deliver the honorable Leverhulme Lecture and receive the Leverhulme medal. I am overwhelmed by the warm welcome and the love and support that came from those who attended the lecture.”

Professor Sally Theobald, a Professor of International Public Health at LSTM and a longstanding supporter of Professor Al-Sonboli’s work, said: “Najla is a true heroine. Her work and dedication to children’s health and lives is unrivalled. She is an amazing and inspirational leader in health delivery in war and is continuing to work with resilience and passion in the face of the many challenges war brings to a crumbling health system and children’s health.

“She is motivating others to continue providing health services as she does, without the necessary resources, financial, medical or other, in order to save lives and bring hope to children and their families in Sana’a.”

The lecture was attended by many supporters of Habibti Liverpool, who advocate and fundraise for Al-Sabeen Hospital for Maternity and Children.

Saba Ahmed, a trustee of Habibti Liverpool, said: “Najla has captured the hearts of so many of us in Liverpool. We proud to be part of Habibti Liverpool and show support and solidarity to health workers, families and children at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sana’a.”

Taher Qassim MBE, chair of the British Yemeni Society, and a supporter of Professor Al-Sonboli’s work, said: “Najla shared her professional work that permeated to the heart and minds of all the participants in the lecture theatre and those watching online. I felt like her passion touched the inner soul of many who were following what she had to say. I have not seen so many young and adults crying after she had finished her lecture. Najla shared her experience as a doctor working in wartime with extreme difficulties that many in her situation would have left but she stayed with her determination and leadership to keep the work going and being a true role model for leadership.

"I congratulate Najla and her team for this heroic work."