The story of Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) started in the 1980s, with one microbiologist in the corridor of Dhaka Shishu Hospital (now renamed to Bangladesh Shishu Hospital & Institute, BSHI) noticing the unacceptably high number of deaths in children under the age of 5 years (<5) in Bangladesh.
Despite pediatric infections being one of the main causes of death and disability in the country, there was a vicious cycle at play - of limited resources resulting in little- to-no data on disease burden. The determined microbiologist, Professor Samir K Saha, aimed to change this by bringing together a multidisciplinary team with the expertise to create a virtuous cycle; by ensuring the most optimal and rational use of available resources leading to the generation of evidence. Thus, CHRF was formally established in 2007, with the motto, ‘prevent infections, save lives.’
Today, CHRF has a multidisciplinary team of next-generation scientists that includes clinicians, microbiologists, community health workers, technologists, and data scientists. With a network of five laboratories around Bangladesh in both urban and rural hospitals, CHRF provides low-cost diagnostic services for patients and shares the clinical data with the hospital physicians in real time to improve patient care. Our network of four hospitals, and five laboratories in both rural and urban areas of Bangladesh is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Invasive Bacterial Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance Network.
However, CHRF’s work is not limited to hospitals. In countries like Bangladesh, where no national health insurance exists and people pay out of their own pockets, most children who fall ill do not seek care at the hospital and are treated at home. As a result, looking at the hospitals alone would greatly underestimate the disease burden. Therefore, we also work directly in and with the community and run a demographic surveillance system in a rural community in Bangladesh, for which we received recognition as a surveillance success story from the World Health Organization in 2016.
At CHRF, we strive to find the cause behind every infection, even those that evade traditional laboratory diagnostics - we have been the pioneer of unbiased next-generation metagenomic sequencing in Bangladesh and were the first to detect the chikungunya virus as a causative agent for meningitis in children. We are currently working towards creating an atlas of common pathogens in Bangladesh and designing new diagnostics.
With all of these ventures and a young, aspiring team, CHRF strives to ensure that all people have equal access to the prevention and health services they need every day. We are reducing child mortality by generating data on specific causes of diseases, as well as on overall disease burden, by creating awareness, and advocating for appropriate care and care-seeking behavior. We also advocate for rational treatments, promote antimicrobial stewardship, and campaign for evidence-based prevention programs and policies such as vaccine rollouts for endemic diseases.
Our advocacy based on data generated from our surveillance has facilitated introduction of two life-saving vaccines (Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine and Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV10)) into the National Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) of Bangladesh. The impact we have had in saving lives in Bangladesh has received many national and international accolades, such as from the WHO, UNESCO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, American Society of Microbiology, and the Government of Bangladesh (Ekushey Padak, the second highest civilian award).
Looking into the future, we hope to expand and have our own hospital, diagnostic laboratory, and a state-of-the-art research institute in Bangladesh and thus, build a model for evidence-based healthcare for all.