An interview with PLOS ONE Women’s and Maternal Health Section Editor Rubeena Zakar

In this interview we speak with Rubeena Zakar PLOS ONE’s new section editor for Women’s and Maternal health. Here she discusses her important research and work with PLOS ONE. Dr. Rubeena Zakar is currently professor of Public Health and Director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. She earned her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from Sindh Medical College, Karachi University, Master’s in Population Sciences from Punjab University (2006); and Ph.D in Public Health from Bielefeld University, Germany (2012) with distinction (Summa cum laude).
Her research interests include gender-based violence, women’s health in developing countries, maternal and child health, inequalities in health care utilization, health and human rights, and gender and development. 

Why did you choose to enter Women’s health research?  What do you like most about your field? 

RZ: By training, I am a medical doctor. While I was doing my residency in Gynecology and Obstetrics, many a times I met with women who experienced violence and had sexual and reproductive health issues such as unplanned pregnancy due to violence. Having the thrust for research on maternal and child health since the third year of my medical education, this close interaction with women triggered me to do research in this area.  

For the last 20 years, I have been involved in a wide range of research activities focusing on women’s health, empowerment and enhancement of their social status and economic participation. My 80 plus publications in impact factor international journals mainly highlight women’s health and child health related issues. The central themes and primary focus of my research is that women’s meaningful participation is the key driver of country’s socio-economic development trajectories.  

As a Professor of Public Health, I have been assembling evidence to demonstrate that gender issues are critically important for Pakistani society. Getting inspiration from Robert K. Merton’s notion that ‘data has power’, I have been presenting empirical evidence to suggest that lack of investment in women’s health has serious negative implications on country’s economy, polity and global reputation. My research has also illuminated that if women are victims of violence, ignorance and social exclusion, country cannot attain economic prosperity, peace, stability and social harmony. 

My research on social epidemiology, infectious diseases (such as dengue and Covid-19), on child health such as breastfeeding practices,  child nutrition & Vitamin D deficiency have documented that social and health scientist must come forward to present out-of-the-box solutions to deal with social determinants of health instead of over-investing on hospital-based curative techniques.  

You have recently become our new Section Editor for Women’s health. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role? 

RZ: I like my role as section editor for women’s health, as women’s health especially in LMICs is very close to my heart. As a section editor, I get to know new research in this area from different part of the world as it comes out. It helps me to understand and see the strengths and weaknesses of researches from all over the world. I am confident that my contributions as section editor will leave a positive mark in this area through reflecting high-quality work in this area. It helps me to get familiarity with ongoing research in women’s health, give me institutional credit, and above all gives me greater visibility within my research community which motivated me to work as Editorial Board Member.  

What do you think is the most exciting area in Women’s health research at the moment? 

RZ: Social determinants greatly affect women’s health particularly in developing countries. In some parts of the world, women are deprived of their basic rights including access to health services, appropriate nutrition and education. Socio-cultural practices such as child marriages, forced marriages, cousin marriages, female genital mutilation, and son preference undermine women health and wellbeing.  Additionally, various negative stereotypes such as pregnancy and childbirth related taboos, dowry and honor related violence, restrictions on women’s mobility and social participation are significantly associated with women’s health status. For improving women’s sexual and reproductive health, society needs to take comprehensive and integrated measures to address the cultural stereotypes and harmful sociocultural practices against women. 

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the Women’s health research community? 

RZ: Still in many parts of the world, particularly in conservative areas, talking about women’s health, especially related to social issues, is considered a western agenda. Most of the research on women’s health is focusing on mortality and morbidity around maternal health and life course perspective is still lacking in this area. There is lack of adequately trained researchers in this field. In many countries, nationally representative data is not available on women’s health issues which lead to lack of evidence-based policies, planning and programs. And the results derived from local studies are rarely available to wider audience and are not widely circulated.  

How important is Open Science for the Women’s health research community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to Women’s health research? 

RZ: Open Science for women’s health research community is very important to disseminate and share knowledge from all over the world especially for the researchers from low- and middle-income countries.  PLOS One is playing its great role by sharing and disseminating scholarship in women’s health with women’s health researchers’ community. In PLOS One, there is great representation of research on different issues related to women’s health from different countries across the globe. 

Why would you advise authors to publish in PLOS ONE? 

RZ: There are many valid reasons to advice authors to publish in PLOS One. I am sharing some points below: 

  • PLOS One is highly reputable journal in the field of Public Health with high impact factor. Journal’s citation and readership is spread all over the world.  
  • The process of manuscript review and feedback is very rigorous. The reviewers provide their detailed constructive feedback in timely manner, which helps to improve the research and writing skills of authors.  
  • Being a well-known journal in the field, publishing with PLOS One helps the authors to increase their visibility with relevant influencers.  
  • PLOS One also provides the opportunity to their authors to be a part of peer-review process for their manuscripts. To me, to be a reviewer is a win-win situation which helps the authors to learn new research from different perspectives.  
Image credit Courtesy of Rubeena Zuakr

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS

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Cervical Health Awareness Month

Health risks can be frightening, but ignorance to these risks can be even more terrifying. In the past, we have discussed a range of women’s health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and ovarian cancer.  To continue our commitment to health awareness, we would like to honor January as Cervical Health Awareness month.

PLOS ONE has published research tackling many aspects of cervical health, including cervical cancer and human papillomavirus.

Human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, at least 50% of sexually active people will contract the virus at some point in their lives.  There are more than 40 types of HPV, some of which may lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screening and vaccination to help prevent human papillomavirus.

To further expand our knowledge and understanding of cervical health, researchers from across the globe continue to explore HPV, the vaccine and its social effects.

For example, in a study published in PLOS ONE, authors in Tanzania explored the reasoning behind young girls receiving or not receiving the HPV vaccination. After interviewing both adults and students, researchers found that vaccine education and parental meetings were crucial for vaccine acceptance. Knowing women who had suffered from cervical cancer was also a factor in the decision-making.

The effectiveness of the vaccine is also a common concern. In another article, Canadian researchers developed a system to track the effectiveness of the HPV vaccination in preventing the virus.  The authors created a protocol for linking multiple data registries to allow for ongoing monitoring of the vaccines effectiveness, while also ensuring patient privacy was taken into account. This research aims to understand the long term effects of the vaccine and future vaccination tracking initiatives.

This study expands our knowledge on the vaccination results, but what about transmission of the virus? In a third PLOS ONE report, researchers explored the prevalence of HPV in the DNA of males with infected female sexual partners.  The authors found that HPV was prevalent in 86% of the male participants surveyed. These men had the same high risk viral type as the infected women, supporting the importance of awareness in men to protect themselves and their partners. This area of investigation is important in expanding our knowledge of transmission of the virus and the risk of cervical cancer development.

All these studies are aimed at improving our understanding of HPV risks and vaccination, and there are many more. As Cervical Health Awareness month draws to an end, explore more PLOS ONE research on the subject here.


Watson-Jones D, Tomlin K, Remes P, Baisley K, Ponsiano R, et al. (2012) Reasons for Receiving or Not Receiving HPV Vaccination in Primary Schoolgirls in Tanzania: A Case Control Study. PLoS ONE 7(10): e45231. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045231

El Emam K, Samet S, Hu J, Peyton L, Earle C, et al. (2012) A Protocol for the Secure Linking of Registries for HPV Surveillance. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39915. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039915

Rocha MGdL, Faria FL, Gonçalves L, Souza MdCM, Fernandes PÁ, et al. (2012) Prevalence of DNA-HPV in Male Sexual Partners of HPV-Infected Women and Concordance of Viral Types in Infected Couples. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040988

Image: Glass sculpture of human papillomavirus.  Photograph by Luke Jerram, “Papilloma 2011″

Women’s Health and Fitness Series Part V: Pregnancy

In this last post of the Women’s Health and Fitness Series, we delve into the mother of all topics: pregnancy. As one of the few health topics that truly only affects women, pregnancy is highly stressful on for women’s bodies, but amazingly, they know exactly how to respond to this event. In addition, many of the issues previously raised in the series continue to carry weight when discussing pregnancy.

One aspect of pregnancy that carries a lot of weight is exactly that: the amount of weight a pregnant woman gains. Obesity in pregnancy is associated with a long list of medical complications for a mother and child, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, infection and many others.  A PLOS ONE study published in July 2012 investigates the link between healthy weight during pregnancy and the associated risks when the term “eating for two” is taken too liberally. Obesity in pregnancy is associated with a long list of medical complications for a mother and child, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, infection and many others.

The authors, from the University of Ulster in Ireland, wanted to see if regimented diet and physical activity was an efficient intervention to reduce excess gestational weight gain (GWG). They reviewed 5 studies that had examined a total of 971 pregnant women with a mean BMI of 26. They found that setting goals through 1-on-1 diet and lifestyle counseling was the most successful strategy to help women gain appropriate amounts of weight during pregnancy. The researchers also note that while weight is a primary concern, and behavior modification is an effective way to address the problem, more research is required “to target women’s psychological needs as well as their emotional and physical needs”.

Pregnancy is a unique experience for the female gender, as well as for each individual woman.  Much like we’ve discussed throughout the series, health incorporates a balance of many factors, like nutrition, weight, emotional well-being, and should be tailored to each person.

With that, happy Women’s Health and Fitness Day, and we hope this month’s series has been informative and inspirational!

Image Credit: makelessnoise on Flickr CC-by license

Citation: Brown MJ, Sinclair M, Liddle D, Hill AJ, Madden E, et al. (2012) A Systematic Review Investigating Healthy Lifestyle Interventions Incorporating Goal Setting Strategies for Preventing Excess Gestational Weight Gain. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39503. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039503