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Personal Story of Dr. Ismail Baba

Updated: Mar 25

Continuing our series of stories from social workers sharing their stories, you can expect that we have another story featuring our very own Dr. Ismail Baba, a social work educator, an HIV and AIDS activist and former MASW president.


Let's get into it!


Can you share your experiences in advocating for professional social work practice?


I started my social work career as a medical social worker at one of the university hospitals in Malaysia after graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work in 1979 from the School of Social Work at McGill University, Canada.


When I was at the hospital I had the opportunity to network, advocate, collaborate, and educate the Malaysian public about social work. My serious community project started when I started my career as a lecturer in the Social Work program at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in 1980.


After having completed my master's degree in social work from Columbia University, USA in 1983, I came back to USM and started an organization called the Community AIDS Service Penang (CASP) in 1989. HIV and AIDS had just started at that time and the pandemic has raised many issues such as stigma, discrimination, fear, ignorance, and misconceptions. Later in 1990 we also started a research center called “AIDS Action Research Group” (AARG) under the School of Social Sciences, USM.


My involvement with CASP and AARG directed me to pursue my Ph.D. in 1991 at the School of Social Work at Barry University, USA which enabled me to specialize in the biopsychosocial aspects of HIV & AIDS issues. HIV & AIDS bring a lot of challenges not only to social workers but other professionals as well such as doctors, nurses, counselors, psychologists, and members of the community globally.


Social workers adhere to these core values in helping their clients.

The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS has had detrimental effects on individuals and communities. It has discouraged people from getting tested, seeking treatment, or disclosing their HIV status, which can lead to further spread of the virus. Stigma on HIV and AIDS has negative psychological and emotional impacts on individuals living with HIV, leading to isolation, discrimination, and decreased quality of life.


With my social work background, I have engaged myself in raising awareness, promoting education about the disease, challenging misconceptions, and advocating for the rights and well-being of individuals living with HIV. I think it is important to address stigma and create an inclusive and supportive environment to effectively prevent and manage HIV and AIDS in Malaysia.


In summary, as a university lecturer and as an HIV and AIDS activist, I have engaged in the areas of:


  1. Advocacy and Policy Development: engage in advocacy efforts to address promote social justice, and influence policy development. I am also involved in advocating for policies and programs that enhance the well-being of marginalized individuals and communities.

  2. Community Development and Empowerment: I have empowered many individuals, families, groups, and communities such as empowering them to identify and address their own needs.

  3. Education and Research: I have conducted research in the area of HIV and AIDS and social work-related issues to generate knowledge, contribute to the evidence base, and inform practice and policy. Additionally, I continue to educate and train future social workers to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to make a positive impact.

  4. Leadership and Mentorship: As a former Dean of the School of Social Sciences, USM (2007-2012) and President of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers (2017-2019), I have provided leadership and mentorship to social work professionals and students. Through these roles, I have influenced the professional development of social workers, guided their practice, and promoted ethical standards within the field.


What’s the biggest challenge or challenges you faced in this process?


My biggest issue concerning my HIV and AIDS intervention is advocacy and awareness. As a social worker, I have to advocate for social justice, equality, and the rights of marginalized groups. The Malaysian community does not understand the underlying issues of HIV and AIDS. Therefore, it is very challenging for me to garner support or mobilize community members for social change.


Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Concerning social work as a profession majority of our community members and other stakeholders still do not understand the purpose of social work. Therefore, they are less inclined to collaborate or participate in community initiatives and this can be very challenging to implement policies, effective interventions, or programs.


Briefly share your success stories in advocating for the community.


As an HIV & AIDS activist, I managed to place a dozen babies who were born and abandoned due to HIV to foster parents.  They all grow up “healthy” and live in a very supportive and safe environment.  Through my involvement with HIV and AIDS, I have also empowered many individuals, groups, families, communities, and health professionals on the biopsychosocial aspects of HIV and AIDS.

As a lecturer in the social work program, I have produced more than 10,000 trained social workers over the last 40 years as a lecturer in social work.  Some of them are now qualified social workers working in various organizations and not to mention many of them are lecturing social work in the higher learning institutions in Malaysia.


In your opinion, how can the social work professional bill help social worker both current and future?


A social work bill can establish a legal framework for recognizing social work as a legitimate profession. It can define standards of practice and ethical guidelines for social workers.


This is to ensure that practitioners meet specific educational and professional requirements. It also helps social workers understand their professional boundaries. The bill also helps social workers with professional development and training.


This helps to enhance their professional knowledge, skills, and competencies. In return, they can provide better quality services to individuals, groups, families, and communities.


I think the bill will also create better job opportunities for government and non-government sectors.

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