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The ongoing fight in public health

  • Published at 05:12 pm December 18th, 2017
  • Last updated at 02:58 pm December 20th, 2017
The ongoing fight in public health

In light of Bangladesh’s month of victory, icddr,b is proud to have played a part in Bangladesh’s Independence War, and has continued to fight, long after victory, to tackle disease and illness -- we’ve supported the government for many years to improve public health and achieve the development goals.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised icddr,b in 2016, saying that our research has “helped significantly reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality in Bangladesh.”

In 2017, icddr,b was internationally recognised when we won the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest recognition of humanitarian work.

Continuing the fight against disease

Now a diverse international organisation, icddr,b began life in the 1960s as a Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL). Since its conception, we’ve worked to eradicate cholera and other fatal diseases, but we also played our part in the Independence War by continuing hospital operations both in Dhaka and Matlab.

In the US, former CRL colleagues, along with Bangladeshi and Indian nationals working and studying there, established the Bangladesh Information Center (BIC) in early 1971.

Headed by Dr William B Greenhough, with Norbert Hirshhorn and David R Nalin (who, with Dr Richard Cash, invented ORS), the BIC provided fund-raising, demonstrations, and coordinated lobbying to persuade the Americans to block US aid to Pakistan.

Actions included a front-page story by Tad Szulc in The New York Times,  showing photographs of weapons being shipped from New Jersey to Pakistan.

While Dr Greenough and Dr Nalin were assisting BIC, another CRL scientist, Dr W Henry Mosely, photographed the atrocities which weere carried out by the Pakistan Army in late March 1971, which he sent to the US via Tehran.

Finally, in numerous refugee camps, CRL staff provided vital clinical care.    

Since then, we’ve continued fighting disease and illness, and have supported building this nation through innovative public health solutions, which have then been implemented by the Bangladesh government.

icddr,b provides assistance to deal with cholera outbreaks in major global conflict zones and we’re providing technical support on preventing outbreaks at the Rohingya Myanmar National camps

This partnership is one of the factors leading to the ”Bangladesh paradox.”

Described in the UK’s esteemed medical journal The Lancet: “Bangladesh offers lessons such as how gender equity can improve health outcomes, how health innovations can be scaled up, and how direct health interventions can partly overcome socio-economic constraints.”

Among these innovations have been the Oral Rehydration Solution. icddr,b researchers discovered that a simple solution -- mixing salt, water, and sugar, and delivering it by mouth -- could rehydrate cholera patients and save them from certain death. Its use has saved an estimated 50 million lives, and, unsurprisingly, it’s recognised among the most important medical advances of the 20th century.

Additionally, icddr,b’s work in conflict zones demonstrates that our contribution to public health extends beyond medical research to directly addressing the consequences of war in the 21st century.

Military conflict and displacement can lead to cholera outbreaks as infrastructure systems for sanitation and clean water break down. In response to this continuing human tragedy, icddr,b provides critical training and assistance to deal with cholera outbreaks in major global conflict zones -- including Yemen and South Sudan -- and we are providing technical support on preventing outbreaks at the Rohingya Myanmar National camps.

Innovation bred by scarcity

icddr,b scientists are continuing to create ground-breaking medical innovations in response to scarcity. In terms of low-cost solution to pneumonia, a team of icddr,b researchers, in 2015, used a shampoo bottle as part of cheaper alternative apparatus that can effectively deliver bubble-CPAP.

Our Q Mat -- an absorbent birth-mat made of biodegradable materials -- can be used to rapidly diagnose the onset of post-partum hemorrhage without any professional training during home births.

We need your support

We provide free treatment for over 200,000 vulnerable people per year, in our hospitals in Dhaka and Matlab. But to continue this, we need your help towards the $5 million cost of providing free care.

icddr,b has a well-deserved reputation as a successful organisation, so it’s easy to think that we don’t need additional funding to pay for our hospitals.

Our projects, creating innovative scientific research, are funded by project donors, but, our hospitals have no direct source of funding. Some money is “recovered” from projects, and a recent efficiency drive has brought savings of $900,000, but we still have a significant shortfall.

In addition to our standard hospital care, our intensive care units save the lives of those suffering from pneumonia, and our Nutritional Rehabilitation Unit allows us to treat severely malnourished children.

Many of our patients would die without our care, and 60% of our patients are children.

To enable us to care for those suffering from severe diarrhoeal disease and dehydration, we have launched a new “Hospital Appeal.” Please help us to continue fighting illness and disease in our hospitals by donating today.

For more information please visit www.icddrb.org/donate/hospital-fundraising.

Catherine Spencer is Director of Communications and Change Management at icddr,b.