Maha Almuneef, M.D., speaks in a pretty, thrumming cadence, particularly when she reminisces about the years she spent at UAB, completing her residency training in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital.
“I loved the Southern hospitality,” Almuneef says by phone from her home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “In the residency, there were people from all over the world, from every imaginable background, that shaped who I am today. It was like my second home.”
Almuneef now serves as the executive director of Saudi Arabia’s National Family Safety Program. Since its launch in 2005, the NFSP has had a mission to build awareness and to create a safe community that protects and defends individuals’ rights and helps the victims of domestic violence. “We felt that Saudi Arabia—with its economic, human, and material resources—was prepared to begin dealing with these problems,” Almuneef says.
A Saudi native, Almuneef was in Birmingham from 1991 to 1994. She had been accepted into a residency program at Harvard University but opted for UAB instead.
Later, when Almuneef went to Yale to complete her postdoctoral fellowship in infectious disease, her Ivy League classmates teased her about Alabama. “But if it happened again, I would still go to UAB, because my experience at Children’s Hospital was so extraordinary.”
In fact, one incident during her residency altered the course of Almuneef’s personal and professional life. “I was on call in the ER, and a Saudi man came in with his 8-month-old son,” she says. “Bruises and head injuries made it obvious this was an abused child. I got involved as more than a physician: I was translating. I was talking to law enforcement. In the wife I saw a young woman far away from home, with her child and herself being abused. We worked to get the perpetrator punished.
“I never forgot that experience,” Almuneef says. “I thought of that woman so often. When I came back to Saudi Arabia, I realized there were hundreds of thousands of children who needed an advocate. So I began working at the community level with street children and raising awareness on child rights. There are so many abused children in need. Now I’d say infectious disease work, which is my subspecialty, is a little bit of what I do—about 30 percent—and I spend 70 percent of my time on general pediatrics and child protection.”
To read more about Almuneef’s fight to protect children from abuse, read the full story from UAB Medicine.