Our Story

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.

Our Journey

Message from Executive Director

In 2013 Bangladesh proudly announced her success in reducing the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds since 1990, becoming one of the first countries to achieve United Nations Millennium Development Goal-4. This was made possible by the overwhelming success in implementing the national immunization program and reducing mortality due to diarrheal diseases. However, Bangladesh still lags behind significantly in combating other infectious diseases like pneumonia, typhoid and meningitis – diseases that kill more children than all other infectious diseases together.

One of the main reasons for this lag is the lack of evidence for policy makers to act on. Clinical research in Bangladesh is arguably one of the most challenging endeavors to be undertaken by scientific  investigators, since most hospitals must devote their very limited resources to patient care and are not able to support the research activities necessary to generate evidence.

In spite of this challenge, a small microbiology laboratory in the “corridor” of Dhaka Shishu Hospital (DSH) teamed up with a group of bold and driven clinical colleagues, and in 1989 set out to fill this evidence gap. The laboratory decided to focus solely on pediatric infectious diseases, with specific emphasis on pneumonia, typhoid and meningitis, with absolutely no funding commitment. Faced with this funding challenge, we discovered other resources within our team at DSH. The microbiology team was passionate, bold and had inexhaustible will power to move forward with minimal facilities and limited resources.

Together, we started to work towards breaking the vicious cycle of “limited resources and no generation of evidence” and turning it into a virtuous cycle by generating evidence using the resources available in our own setting. The large pediatric hospital, huge number of patients, and supportive clinical and epidemiological colleagues turned out to be invaluable resources for research. By 1997, we started generating evidence on Hib and pneumococcal diseases in Bangladesh. These preliminary successes facilitated the extension of our team to form a multi disciplinary group. Seeing the potential of this teamwork and the impact on evidence generation and its implications, we started to work towards building an even broader coalition. In2007, while keeping our umbilical connection intact with Dhaka Shishu Hospital, we founded Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) to focus on research in addition to serving the patients. CHRF established a network off our hospitals comprising 1,100 beds for children, as well as two population-based field sites in urban and rural Bangladesh.

Standing strong in 2014, CHRF now has members from all different fields, from community health workers to statisticians, clinicians to epidemiologists. Our many generous and supportive collaborators come from allover the world. In this large group, the laboratory researchers play the role of prime mover by generating new research ideas and bringing the resources. The versatile CHRF team does not stop at the level of patient services, research and publications in journals. It goes a step further to translate evidence into public policies by collaborating closely with policy makers. As a result, the CHRF team has contributed significantly to the evidence-based decision making process to introduce Hib and pneumococcal vaccines in Bangladesh.

CHRF is continuing its work to generate evidence on the impact of these new vaccines in our population to keep policy makers updated with evidence in real time. We are continuing to use our own model to build capacity at each collaborating field site, making those capable of providing quality service to children and generating evidence for policy decisions.

Our Collaborators

The long journey from a small table to state-of-the-art laboratories would not have been possible without the generous support from our friends and collaborators all over the world.