Global Student Spotlight: Hamna Shafiq


Global Student Spotlight: Hamna Shafiq

Global Health is Personal for This Human Biology Student
Hamna Shafiq

Human Biology major Hamna Shafiq was fueled by her personal experiences to pursue studies in global health. Now a third-year, she is primed for medical school through her research in undernutrition in vulnerable global populations.

You recently returned from a research trip to Pakistan. Tell us about the project you've been working on there.

Shafiq: Since Fall 2021, I have been working in the Cowardin Lab studying the link between platelet activation and inflammation in the context of undernutrition. In the summer of 2022, I investigated data from human samples from the Study of Environmental Enteropathy and Malnutrition (SEEM) and performed a secondary analysis of these data and determined that genes related to platelet activation have elevated expression in humans as well as mice. This has informed my work since by highlighting genes of importance which I am working on currently.

This project, however, was much more than the data that I was working with and about understanding what it is like working at field sites to collect this data. For me research is about the larger impact we can have through our work. This project allowed me to understand this motivation and gain perspective for my research. I had the amazing opportunity to meet participants from the study and experience their openness and heartwarming hospitality. Now I hold those moments near and dear to my heart to serve as a reminder of my purpose.


Group photo in Pakistan
The team from Dr. Najeeha Iqbal’s lab who worked on the SEEM study. Photo was taken following a farewell dinner for Shafiq. Photo credit: Hamna Shafiq

What sparked your interest in global health?

Shafiq: Many years ago, it was around midnight when my sister started having severe seizures. Despite the ignorance of everyone around her, my mother decided at that moment that she was taking her daughter to the hospital even if she had to carry her the entire way. We lived in the village, which was far from the nearest hospital, so walking wasn’t an option. After many disappointing calls to cab drivers, one finally agreed to take them. Once they arrived at the clinic, my sister was given an IV and was diagnosed with severe dehydration that could have been fatal.

This was not an isolated incident. A couple of years after, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had to go through multiple inaccurate test results and prognoses in Sialkot, Pakistan, her hometown. Seeing the lives of the people I loved be impacted by these healthcare inequities, I was drawn to the field of global health for as long as I can remember. The more I have gotten to explore it through coursework, programming, and research the more I am drawn to it. My work in global health allows me to leverage these life experiences into a career I am truly passionate about.

What other global experiences have you participated in while at UVA?

Shafiq: In addition to my research, I am currently the chair of the Center for Global Health Equity (CGHE) Student Advisory Board where I have been involved for 2 years now. CGHE provides a vast variety of experiences for the global health community at UVA. Through our programming, I have learned from the experiences of faculty working in the field. Through our Global Health Case Competition we got a chance to engage with real world global health problems. I have gained an immense amount of knowledge through these experiences to further develop my global sensibility.

Women in Pakistan
A photo taken at the house of a patient who was part of a clinical trial Shafiq had observed at AKU. The visit was in an effort to understand the lived experience of individuals and families facing undernutrition. Photo credit: Hamna Shafiq

What are your next steps?

Shafiq: For my research, I am working on building upon my work from the project and eventually share my findings to understand the role that platelet activation can play in gut inflammation.

In terms of overall career goals, I plan on attending medical school following my undergraduate education. I want to use my medical education as well as research experience to provide healthcare to underserved populations as well as research diseases like undernutrition that impact the most vulnerable populations around the globe.

There are so many opportunities to explore your global health interests at UVA so utilize them while you are here!

What would you tell UVA students seeking global health experiences today?

Shafiq: There are so many opportunities to explore your global health interests at UVA so utilize them while you are here! There are so many people who will work with you to craft a plan to explore it. I would encourage anyone even slightly interested in the topic to seek out those opportunities. The global health community here is incredibly supportive and helpful so leverage those connections! Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in any of these experiences and I would love to connect you with the right opportunities ([email protected]).