Zafrullah Chowdhury (born December 27, 1941) is a Bangladeshi public health activist. He is the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (meaning the People's Health Center in Bengali), a rural healthcare organization. Dr. Chowdhury is known more for his work in formulating the Bangladesh National Drug Policy in 1982.
Early life and career
He spent his early childhood in Kolkata and later his family settled in Dhaka. He was one of ten children born to his parents. After attending Nabakumar School at Bakshibazar, he studied at Dhaka College. He studied medicine at Dhaka Medical College, where he got involved with leftist political ideologies. As the general secretary of the Dhaka Medical College students’ union, he held a press conference to expose the corruption at the hospital. After a turbulent student life, he finished his MBBS degree in 1964 and left for the UK for post-graduate studies in general and vascular surgery. In 1971 when the independence war started, he returned home.
He was involved in setting up the 480-bed Bangladesh Field Hospital for freedom fighters and the refugees. The hospital was run by a team of Bangladeshi doctors, medical students and volunteers. Women with no previous training in healthcare were trained within days to help out the patients. This experience in the field hospital led him to believe that an effective healthcare delivery system can be developed in rural Bangladesh by training women as a primary healthcare delivery platform. This achieved worldwide credibility when it was eventually published in The Lancet.
In 1972 Dr. Chowdhury setup the Gonoshasthaya Kendra. Actually the idea was introduced in a concept paper titled, ‘Basic Health Care in Rural Bangladesh’ in Dhaka. The center focuses on providing basic healthcare to the rural areas. The center also runs a university, vocational training center, agricultural cooperatives, hospital, a printing press, community schools and a generic drug manufacturing plant. Gonoshasthaya Kendra has been very successful in providing family planning services, lowering maternal, infant mortality rates. Though limited in its reach, it pioneered the introduction of cheaper generic drugs. In 1973, Gonoshasthaya Kendra introduced a Rural Healthcare Insurance System, the first of its kind in Bangladesh.
Critiques have pointed out that rather than being national, the center's reach has been confined to specific areas. However, Zafrullah Chowdhury believes that public health is a state matter, it can never be left to the private sector.
National Drug Policy
Dr. Chowdury gained prominence by being the driving force in formulating the Bangladesh National Drug Policy in 1982. Before that, 4,000 commercial drugs were available in the market, mostly manufactured by the multi-national companies or imported from abroad. Most of the drugs were out of reach for majority of the people. Some of these drugs were unnecessary and even dangerous whereas the most essential 150 remained in short supply.
National drug policy changed all that. Following WHO guidelines for the developing countries, the policy restricted manufacturing and import of number of drugs to 225. It emphasized on manufacturing of generic drugs and manufacturing them locally. The result has been the wider availability of drugs at drastically reduced prices. And today, Bangladesh has turned into a drug exporting country.
- 2002 - International Public Health Heroes Award, UC Berkeley, U.S.
- 1977 - Independence Day Award, Bangladesh
- 1992 - Right Livelihood Award, Sweden
- 1985 - Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, Philippines
- 1974 - Swedish Youth Peace Prize 
- Chozdhury, Z. 1995 The Politics of Essential Drugs, Zed Books Ltd; London
- Public Health Heroes Awards Ceremony
- New Age New Year Special 2006