Serving Pediatric Patients from Boston to Bangladesh: Maitreyi Mazumdar
Superfund Research Program
Maitreyi Mazumdar, M.D., a pediatric neurologist who practices at Children's Hospital Boston, was drawn to environmental health because of her patients. Parents would ask her questions about chemicals in the environment that she couldn’t answer. When researchers with the Harvard University Superfund Research Program (SRP) asked for her help measuring the developmental health effects of metal exposure in Bangladesh, she jumped at the chance to travel there and learn more about how to address chemical exposures in clinical settings, even when resources are limited.
Dr. Mazumdar has a unique connection to the region of Bangladesh where she works. Though she grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., Dr. Mazumdar knows Bengali culture and language because her family comes from Bengal, a historical and geographic region that was partitioned between India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after British colonial occupation ended. The SRP field site in Bangladesh where she works happens to be where her grandfather and great-grandfather once lived before they each moved to a different area of India. Growing up, Dr. Mazumdar learned the languages and culture from relatives in India, and now she uses these skills to lead meetings and seminars in Bengali with the goal of bringing about large-scale community health improvements.
Dr. Mazumdar used her cultural and language skills to adapt a neurological testing scale to Bangladeshi cultural norms. The pictures and instructions in the standard neurological testing manual, The Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, are meant for American children, and some would not be recognizable to a child in Bangladesh. Dr. Mazumdar created the first culturally appropriate version of the manual for the country.
She also trains healthcare staff at the site to administer neurological tests to children and teaches them to administer these exams as part of routine pediatric check-ups. She is working to help build a clinical infrastructure and to teach staff the basic skills of general pediatric care. For example, she is part of a team setting up a process to screen for and treat developmental delay, epilepsy, and hydrocephalus.
Besides English, Dr. Mazumdar speaks Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, and French, and she is raising her two children to be multilingual as well. “Knowing many languages opens your mind and lets you do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” she says.