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icddr,b was established in Dhaka in 1960s as the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Cholera Research Laboratory. 

The Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL) soon developed an international reputation in diarrhoeal disease research. Among its notable early achievements was a key role in the development, testing and implementation of oral rehydration solution (ORS) – a treatment estimated to have saved tens of millions of lives worldwide.

During the 1960s, the CRL also established a large-scale health and demographic surveillance site at Matlab – now the longest-running such site in the global South and an inspiration for many similar sites worldwide.

In 1962, the CRL established the Dhaka Hospital, still run by icddr,b, to meet the urgent need to treat patients, particularly young children, with severe diarrhoeal disease. The Dhaka Hospital has developed into a nationally important treatment centre and provides an infrastructure for an extensive programme of clinical research. Clinical services were also introduced at Matlab Hospital.

As many other factors affect the risk of diarrhoeal diseases or recovery from them – including nutritional status, income, education of mothers, access to clean water, sanitation habits and efficacy of vaccines – research at CRL expanded into new areas of public health. However, it retained its primary focus on evidence-based solutions able to deliver significant public health benefits at low cost to those living in poverty. 

From CRL to icddr,b

In 1978, the CRL received fresh impetus and a new name – the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. In recent years, we have been known simply as icddr,b.

Our research continued to expand, to address the major public health threats facing Bangladesh and other countries of the global South. Extensive research programmes were implemented in areas such as malnutrition, respiratory disease, vaccine testing, maternal, neonatal and child health, and health systems. We have maintained a strong and productive relationship with the Government of Bangladesh, and played an influential role in informing and evaluating national health policies and practice.

icddr,b is recognised as a national asset, and has contributed to the significant improvements in health achieved by Bangladesh in recent decades, despite the challenges posed by limited resources. In 2001, we received the first Gates Award for Global Health in recognition of our development of ORS. In 2005, we received the Independence Day Award, Bangladesh’s most prestigious national award.

We have also been committed to sharing our expertise, for example through an extensive training programme used by thousands of public health professionals, researchers and others from Bangladesh and other countries of the global South.

In addition, our researchers and clinicians have played major roles in international responses to global humanitarian crises, particularly to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious disease. Over the past 30 years, our staff have supported multiple relief efforts across Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

Looking forward, our goal is to continue generating the evidence to underpin further improvements in public health in Bangladesh, while also ensuring that our research benefits those living in other countries of the global South.

The icddr,b timeline summarises notable events in our history.