Ayaz Mahmood - The pioneer of medical journalism is no more

Dr Muattar Hanif 12:27 PM, 8 Apr, 2021

The founder, publisher, and managing editor of Medical News breathed his last on March 17th, 2021. He left behind a strong legacy that is difficult to match. A self-made man who started his career in advertising sales and then excelling at establishing a pioneering venture in Pakistan’s first medical periodical was published simultaneously from Karachi and Islamabad.

Ayaz Mahmood was born in 1935 and was the youngest of nine siblings. His father, Dr Jalal Uddin Ahmad, was a distinguished dental surgeon with a roaring practice in pre-partition days and was the British Army's official dentist. Dentistry was a family tradition, and some of his older siblings also joined the profession. However, his creative inclinations led him to pursue a different path. He followed the path of creativity and joined advertising sales. He is survived by one son, two daughters and six grandchildren.

Ayaz Mahmood was the founder of Medical News, which heralded the era of medical journalism in Pakistan. The publication made its debut in 1968 and never looked back. He also had the distinction of launching another separate edition from Islamabad, which made the publication unique from Karachi and Islamabad's two simultaneous editions.He received his initial education from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi and later completed his bachelors from the prestigious Government College, Lahore and his master’s degree from Punjab University. At Jamia Millia, he had the honour of having Dr Zakir Hussain as the principal, who later became the President of India. He had the good fortune of residing in the hostel next to the Principal’s house, which allowed him to frequently interact with the distinguished principal and develop a solid foundational work ethic and a robust

roadmap for outshining in life. The highlight of his interaction with Dr Hussain was when he invited his entire class for breakfast.

When Dr Zakir Hussain was going to Lahore, he asked him if he had any relatives there to convey his message. Dr Zakir’s towering personality had a very positive impact on his personality during his early childhood years. Like all young boys, he was also keen to learn swimming and eventually learned it the hard way by almost drowning himself twice.

After completing his education, Ayaz Sahab moved to Karachi and started his career with Pakistan Textile Journal. He excelled at his work and gained experience in the publishing business as an advertising executive.

Always having an adventurous side, he wanted to explore the world. The day he saved enough money to buy a ship ticket, he decided to set sail for the UK aboard Llyod Triestino’s Asia Ocean liner on a 14-day journey. His stay in the UK lasted for two years from 1957-59, and when he ultimately concluded his homeland offered more excellent economic opportunities and decided to move back to Pakistan.

On his return to Pakistan, he joined United advertising, a locally owned agency and only after one year he joined J. Walter Thompson, where his talent and salesmanship blossomed. Painting and drawing fascinated him, and he was an outstanding painter of calligraphy and landscape. In those days, advertising was one of the few professions that were ideal for creative people.

At JWT, his boss was none other than the illustrious Nusrat A. Bukhari, a good conversationalist with a typical English accent. Bukhari established a branch of J. Walter Thompson on the ground floor of the old Rally Brothers Building on I.I. Chundrigar Road; later moved to Nelson Chambers. Ayaz Sahab always praised his salesmanship and management style and gave him credit for his grooming in advertising sales.

At JWT, he handled clients like PTC, who was extensive and very demanding. Television was yet to come, and the dominant medium for advertising was print. With non-existent computers and visuals to be presented in black & white, creativity knew no bounds. Nusrat Bukhari always insisted that not more than two visuals be taken to the client for approval. Ayaz sb was quick to pick up these tricks of the trade and excelled in whatever he did.

At JWT, he had the privilege of working with some of the advertising world's stalwarts, such as Anwar Rammal, Framroze H. Punthakey and Shaukat Fancy.

Ayaz Sahab was a very disciplined person and always emphasized time management and its importance. He soon realized that long unscheduled hours were just not his cup of tea in the advertising industry. The days were spent visiting clients and the evenings in getting their work done with extensive market research – a hallmark of Ayaz Sahab’s approach before launching any campaign for his clients.

After making a name for himself in advertising sales and realizing that he prefers a disciplined lifestyle, he decided to venture into his own business. He drew his inspiration from a copy of a London-based medical journal featuring local pharma industry advertising, which led him to see a case for an equal opportunity to create an avenue for pharmaceuticals to advertise in Pakistan. Since Television was yet to become mainstream; the dominant medium at the time for advertising was print. It was then that the idea of starting a publication crystallized in his mind. His venture was initially named Pakistan Medical Review, which later became Medical News, Pakistan’s first medical periodical in 1968. The renowned paediatrician Prof Ghaffar Billo was its first honorary editor, and Mr M.A.Khan was Executive Editor.

This was the birth of Medical News which he launched in 1968, and it soon became a force to reckon with in the healthcare sector. Like any great idea, he faced immediate resistance from the then-office bearers of the concerned association. They soon came up with their periodical, which was never able to impact like Medical News.

Though Medical News had humble beginnings, much like many start-ups of the time, because of Ayaz sb’s perseverance, field acumen, and relentless pursuit of excellence, the periodical quickly became a recognized brand throughout Pakistan and abroad. Never the one to shy away from work, Ayaz sb would, in the business's early days, himself run routes to distribute Medical News to critical clients and large hospitals. Eventually, success bred upon success and allowed the organization to flourish, which grew into a full-strength publication house with an ever-expanding editorial and field staff at its prime. Under Ayaz sb’s leadership, the business branched out into adjacent areas within the industry with the launch of Agro Veterinary News –another first for Pakistan – and expanded geographically with presence in all major cities of Pakistan and concurrent publications from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. This impressive rise took the industry by storm and notable industry heavyweights started to appreciate the journal’s heft and recognized it even more so when it was reported Medical News had reached distribution across both East and West Pakistan and was being distributed via boats in Chittagong (then in East Pakistan).

Not long after, Medical News Pakistan caught the attention of its namesake in London. The esteemed London periodical, startled by the dramatic and wide-ranging success of Medical News, decided to pursue legal action against Ayaz Mahmood for possible copyright and intellectual property infringement! By Allah’s grace, he successfully defended the business against these unfavourable developments and, in doing so, established Medical News as a worthy international player in medical journalism.

Over the coming decades, he continued to steer the business through multiple ups and downs and changes in competitive and regulatory environment. The Medical News Group of publications marked its 50th anniversary in 2018 under his auspices – a milestone reached by only a select group of companies. During his illustrious career, Ayaz sb hired and mentored talent from all over Pakistan. and so many notable industry leaders got their start at Medical News including M.A. Khan, Shaukat Jawaid, Qaiser Nishat, and Rahimullah Yousufzai. Those who were drafted as contributors for the periodical are now successful in their fields and settled worldwide. Ayaz sb even convinced his elder brother, Mr Khursheed Ahmed, then managing director of Pakistan Times, to join Medical News. Ayaz sb’s spirit of entrepreneurship did not end with Medical News. When he was confident the publication business was in good stead, he ventured into other initiatives, including launching a dishwashing detergent – another first of its kind – and named it “Forun”, which in Urdu meant “immediately” – presumably touting its fast-acting cleaning power! The entire operation was started from his garage and became very popular in a short period, so much so that it came into the limelight when the leading consumer goods company Reckitt & Coleman wanted to buy the idea and brand off him. Deciding otherwise, he continued to remain independent and achieved distribution in Cash & Carry stores. Ultimately compelling Reckitt to unleash their complete marketing and R&D prowess to reverse-engineer the whole thing and launch a competing brand. Ayaz sb’s preference for solid branding was evergreen. He continued a series of product introductions, including coloured paper napkins called “Colourkins” – another bold and creative foray for that time in Pakistan. That spark of inventiveness was also promptly copied by other manufacturers who jumped on the bandwagon as customer demand showed up. Years later, he would fondly recall these “commercial adventures” – as he would call them – and they became a part of his life narrative often told and retold in various settings. They also became exemplars of lifelong teachings for his children – that one is to live life with a sense of adventure and to have an appetite always to take calculated risks. For the rest who knew him, these serve as priceless mementoes to remember him by.
Always a man of unwavering principles, Ayaz sb led a disciplined life governed by our faith’s code of ethics and business dealings. He continuously operated his businesses without an ounce of debt and strictly shied away from taking or giving any interest. He would compromise on expense and productivity and tolerate additional worldly burden but never relent on his commitment to the Almighty. Moreover, as time wore on and into his golden years, he elected to forego continued business leadership and sought a quieter, simpler life, relegating all worldly matters to the attention of others and dedicating all his time to his Deen (religion). He enhanced his philanthropic efforts and support of his local masjid and exclusively focused on all things relating to the Deen.

On a personal level, those who knew him well recall Ayaz sb as being sharp, witty, decisive, and of course, full of humour. He was always the life of the dinner party, telling jokes and stories with as much enthusiasm as if relaying them for the first time. He would thoroughly enjoy sharing stories of his childhood and his time spent with his siblings and cousins. Whenever he reminisced about his time in Lahore, Ayaz sb’s most vivid memories were of his experiences. They shared stories from his father’s life and dental practice during the time of his (Ayaz sb’s) childhood and teenage years. In this, his audience was always guaranteed a rich, first-hand detailed recount of the time, the place-setting, the events, and the dialogues, which he would crisply relay without skipping a beat or being hazy on the minutest of details. In this regard, his impressive recall lasted right up until the last few months on his life. 

He was an avid painter and calligrapher, having taken up these creative outlets since a young age. While growing up and managing to support these hobbies within meagre means he never let up on his passion for painting, often using the back of patient dental records–conveniently sourced from his father’s practice – to paint the most illustrious landscapes. In his later years, he preferred to call his birthplace – Lahore – his home. Having lived across all major cities in Pakistan, he found Lahore’s charm second to none. This is where he breathed his last after a hale and hearty 86 years, succumbing to a fast-progressing pancreatic cancer.

He is survived by one son and two daughters, a loving group of and six grandchildren who adored their ‘dada’ and ‘nana/tutu’, and a host of nieces and nephews spread out across the globe, who saw their uncle as the one-and-only link between their shared golden past and the present.

As Ayaz Mahmood’s surviving legacy, we all pray that Allah Almighty grants him a place in Jannat ul Firdous and pray that we as his children are a source of jaza in his afterlife. (Aameen).


We gratefully acknowledge the condolences received from all over the world, including the honourable President of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi and his wife Samina Alvi, Dr Tipu Sultan / Dr Mirza Ali Azhar (PMA), Dr Inayatullah (JPDA), Dr Ayyaz (IADSR) and many distinguished parliamentarians and healthcare professionals.