December 10, 2018
Health Care Heroes Awards 2018

Dr. Anwar focuses on building a healthy community

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Dr. Saud Anwar is a mayor and physician who spends some of his free time providing free health care to people in impoverished countries.

Category: Community Service — Advocacy/Policy

Dr. Saud Anwar

Employer: Town of South Windsor

Title: Mayor

When he talks to medical students or high school audiences, Dr. Saud Anwar has a message: "Your mayor can have an impact on how long you live."

He should know. As the mayor of South Windsor, Anwar said one of his goals is to enhance the health and wellness of his 26,000 constituents.

"There are certain identified markers that allow people to live longer," said Anwar, citing access to fresh food, libraries to learn and places to exercise, such as public parks. "What if a community can have policies, and give the people an opportunity to achieve those goals?"

Trained in pulmonary medicine, Anwar went on to earn a master's degree in public health from Yale University after determining that the illnesses his patients suffered from were likely a symptom of a larger societal problem.

"If you have chest pain, chest pain is the diagnosis. But it is truly a symptom from an underlying disease — like heart disease — which is a symptom of not getting enough healthy food, of lifestyle choices or lack of prevention," he said. "You can take care of the patient but if you can't take care of the community, what good is it?"

Anwar brings a unique perspective to assessing governmental and community issues, and he often views them through the eyes of a healthcare practitioner whose overall goal is to encourage and build a healthy community. Physicians investigate patient symptoms, make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan. Anwar said he applies this method as mayor of South Windsor, of which he is currently in his second term.

For example, in 2012, while serving on the town council, he proposed a resolution requesting that the CVS pharmacy in town cease the sale of tobacco products. The resolution was defeated, but the ensuing media attention and Anwar's message helped lead CVS to abandon tobacco sales altogether across the country.

He also encourages town restaurants to provide healthy menu items and is a founding member of the South Windsor Hunger Action Team, which educates the community on the need for healthy and fresh food donations to the South Windsor food bank.

To understand what some of his constituents experience daily, Anwar took the SNAP challenge and spent four days living on a food allocation of $4.34, which was the amount allocated for welfare recipients, and shared his story at a local meeting and on social media.

"I wanted to illustrate that someone can try their best to eat healthy, but the resources are not enough," he explained.

Anwar and his wife, Yusra, also a physician, often bring together community organizations and local clergy to discuss strategies to combat addiction issues and provide health care and support to residents. According to Anwar, addressing these issues helps create a positive domino effect toward healthy living and reduced healthcare needs.

"He is one of the most extraordinary individuals I've ever known as a man, family man, physician, community leader and diplomat," said Charlie Margolis, who served on the human relations commission in town with Anwar. "First of all, he is brilliant and he's a doer. He gets things done."

Margolis said Anwar is a humble man who spends his own time and funds traveling the world to provide aid. Following the earthquake in Haiti, he organized a medical mission to the island and chaired an effort to raise funds for a girl's school in Haiti. He has administered aid to Syrian refugees and is an advisor to Homeland Security and the FBI.

Anwar works on the state level as well, serving on the board of directors for the Connecticut Health Foundation, a nonprofit that addresses health policy and awards grants to further its mission of health parity across the state.

He says the disparity of opportunity from city to city presents challenges, particularly understanding that although the inner cities have access to health care, they do not have the same access to healthy living.

"For us as a state, as a community, we need to make sure we have the same opportunity for healthy living for all," Anwar said. " … If not, the entire society pays for it. The cost of health care, if we don't invest in healthy living, is going to be unsustainable as a society."

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