ICDDR,B (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) a pioneering research centre in the biomedical area, located at Mohakhali, Dhaka. It was formally established in its present international form in 1979, but its history dates back to the mid-1950s. The incentive for such a research centre came from the dreadful disease cholera, which for many years had killed tens of thousands in this part of the Indian subcontinent. It had a high level of prevalence throughout the year but frequently also broke out in explosive epidemic form. Naturally, the area provided a suitable ground for scientific research on the disease. Fortunately, also, the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) which was created in 1956 to counter the spread of communism in Southeast Asia also decided to support research on cholera with the aim of protecting American soldiers fighting in the area. The Pakistan SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory (PSCRL) established in 1960 with its headquarters in Dhaka was jointly run by Pakistan and SEATO. After the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, PSCRL passed through a difficult time, but its activities continued, albeit at a reduced scale, as Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL).
CRL had in its research arsenal an important field research station located in matlab, about 60 kilometres southeast of Dhaka, with a population of about 200,000 under year round demographic and health surveillance. This field station provided a unique opportunity during the period 1963 to 1974 to carry out four major field trials of different cholera vaccines. It was also considered to be an invaluable resource for many different types of field interventions and drug trials, including nutritional and population control studies. It was thus strongly felt by scientists and research organisations working in relevant fields to augment the research capacity of the CRL.
A proposal was put forward by a committee of international scientists and Bangladeshi scientists in 1978 to the Government of Bangladesh to raise the status of CRL to that of an international research centre. The proposal was favourably considered by the government. The outcome was the establishment of the centre under the name International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) through an Act of Parliament passed on 26 June 1979.
The centre was chartered as a non-profit organisation for research and training on diarrhoeal diseases and the related subjects of nutrition and fertility. It is administered by an international Board of Trustees consisting of 17 members 3 of whom are Bangladeshis nominated by the government. The Director of the centre is the chief executive officer. He/she is appointed by the Board for a term of three years, and the appointment is usually renewable for a second term. The centre has now a total staff of approximately 1400. The yearly operating budget at present is about 12 million dollars of which about 80% are spent on salaries. Administratively, the centre enjoys immunity from legal proceedings. The centre is free to raise funds from external sources for its research programmes. Research protocols involving human subjects have to be scrutinised by the Ethical Review Committee while the Research Review Committee determines the scientific merit of all studies. The centre is entirely supported by donations from the Government of Bangladesh, both in cash and kind, and a large consortium of international donors. Major international donors have traditionally been the government and aid agencies of Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and the United States of America. International donor organisations include UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, and private foundations such as Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Sasakawa Foundation.
The most significant research accomplishment claimed by the centre is its contribution towards the development of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), one of the most important medical discoveries of the twentieth century. ORS is used to replace body fluid lost during severe diarrhoea by oral administration of a solution of salt and sugar. Establishment of the efficacy of ORS in saving tens of thousands of lives from severe dehydrating diarrhoea both in clinical situation and at the community level has been the most significant accomplishment of ICDDR,B. At present, the centre has several areas of research interest that are broadly organised under four scientific divisions - Clinical Sciences Division, Laboratory Sciences Division, Community Health Division, and Health and Population Extension Division. The Centre's hospital provides free care to more than 120,000 diarrhoea patients annually and maintains a Clinical Research Centre where studies on mechanisms of pathogenicity, drug trials, intervention strategies etc are carried out.
New areas of active research interest include respiratory illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases, aids, hepatitis, maternal and child health, environmental health, health systems research, case management, vaccine testing and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. By 1996 the Centre's sphere of activity became so widened that it considered changing its name to reflect the broader range of activity, but finally decided to retain the present name largely for its world-wide familiarity. It, however, placed the epithet 'Centre for Health and Population Research' to its logo in order to describe more fully its widened scope of activity. Furthermore, a promotional statement was developed and published in many popular publications of the centre describing the centre and its activities. [Zia Uddin Ahmed]