Shela Hirani, RN, PhD, MScN

Community Hero

Shela Hirani, RN, PhD, MScN

(CAN) Canada:  Nurse

Nominee Highlights:

Dr. Shela Hirani is a lactation consultant, registered nurse researcher and academic striving to promote, protect and support breastfeeding during COVID-19. Throughout her career, she has been actively involved in work across health equity, health systems, and programs, with attention to policies that often negatively affect the health and wellbeing of marginalized and vulnerable groups of women and young children in Canada and Pakistan. Her professional goal is to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and marginalized women through her research work, leadership, and community services. In response to COVID-19, Dr. Hirani has developed a knowledge mobilization tool to promote, protect and support breastfeeding during the pandemic.

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Dr. Shela Hirani is an Associate Professor at the University of Regina Faculty of Nursing in Canada. She is a neonatal and child health nursing professional, nurse-academician, nurse-researcher, and an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. For the last twenty years, Dr. Hirani has been actively involved in breastfeeding advocacy and health promotion. She has contributed to knowledge development in nursing related to the care of marginalized women during disasters and breastfeeding during humanitarian emergencies, as well as mother and baby-friendly initiatives in workplace settings. She established her own programme of research on breastfeeding advocacy among marginalized groups of mothers and young children who are refugees, immigrants, internally displaced, and homeless. Dr. Hirani is the recipient of the 2020 Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing’s Emerging Nurse Researcher and several of Canada’s most prestigious scholarship awards, including the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Award and the honorary Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship Award, recognizing her outstanding community services, leadership, and contribution for knowledge development in nursing. Dr. Hirani received competitive research funding from the International Development Research Centre Doctoral Award. While collecting data from displaced women living in disaster relief camps of northern Pakistan, she garnered incredible stories of the difficulties encountered when trying to breastfeed their children. Dr. Hirani’s research focus is in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals, with a special focus on goal 3 that aims at reducing preventable deaths in newborns and children under 5 years of age.

Her research and breastfeeding advocacy efforts have led to the promotion of breastfeeding practices among mothers residing in the disaster relief camps of Pakistan. 

Dr. Hirani has published over 30 articles in high impact interdisciplinary journals and has also written for national journals or magazines, local newspapers, and online reports. Her outstanding research outputs and scholarly achievements are shaping policies, practices and programmes supporting breastfeeding practices of the vulnerable and marginalized mothers with young children. She serves as a regional representative for Pakistan for the Council of International Neonatal Nurses. During her master’s in nursing, Dr, Hirani developed and validated the “Perceived Breastfeeding Support Assessment Tool”, used to measure working mothers’ perceptions of the availability of breastfeeding support from their social network and workplace environment. The tool is currently being utilized in Pakistan to undertake an assessment of breastfeeding support and provide services to mothers, and has also been adapted by researchers from other South Asian countries looking to develop a validated instrument matching local contexts. 

Dr. Hirani has been heavily involved in mentoring nurses from the North American region, novice paediatric nursing faculty from Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan. She currently serves as an academic member of the Breastfeeding Committee of Saskatchewan in Canada, and in this role is actively involved in breastfeeding advocacy efforts in the province of Saskatchewan. She is building a strong programme of research that has already served to improve local, national and international understanding of breastfeeding challenges in displaced and vulnerable populations of mothers with young children in diverse care settings. On the basis of her commitment and research potentials, Dr. Hirani was appointed as an Associate Editor of BioMed CentralPublic Health (global health section).