icddr,b and IEDCR initiate environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and other enteric pathogens in Dhaka and the Rohingya camps


Dhaka, Bangladesh, 10 August 2022– Today, the Environmental Interventions Unit (EIU) of icddr,b in collaboration with the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Government of Bangladesh, launched a new initiative to undertake environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and enteric pathogens in Dhaka and in the camps where Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN) live, commonly known as Rohingya camps. The event was held at the Renaissance Dhaka Gulshan Hotel, Dhaka.

Environmental surveillance relies on wastewater samples, and helps track pathogens in circulation in the population, including their presence or absence, trends in concentrations, and generates an early warning, among others. A few low- and middle-income countries, including Pakistan, and India, have deployed environmental surveillance for different diseases and successfully detected silent outbreaks – meaning a disease that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Under the initiative, wastewater samples will be collected from selected spots comprised of drains, canals, and pumping stations in selected areas of Dhaka city and in the Rohingya camps. Subsequently, it will attempt to track and monitor four vaccine-preventable pathogens including Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae, Rotavirus of enteric pathogen and SARS-CoV-2, in the communities. The benefit of environmental surveillance is multifaceted – it is highly cost-effective and supplementary to the clinical surveillance system, it provides early warnings, data generated are free from bias by healthcare access or healthcare behaviour, it is effective in both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, and evidence from environmental surveillance can be helpful for planning public health emergency responses – including in health communications, health facility preparedness, and vaccination campaigns.

The Honourable Mayor of the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mr Md. Atiqul Islam graced the meeting as Chief Guest while Engineer Taqsem A Khan, Managing Director and CEO of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) attended as the Special Guest. The meeting was presided by Prof. Dr Tahmina Shirin, Director, IEDCR.

Prof. Dr Zakir Hossain Habib, Chief Scientific Officer, Virology, Head, Department of Microbiology at IEDCR presented the evidence on environmental surveillance in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr Md. Mahbubur Rahman, Principal Investigator, EIU at icddr,b, presented the overview of the initiative. He said, “We believe this study will generate fresh evidence and help support the Government of Bangladesh to respond to public health emergencies during any endemic situation effectively.

The Honourable Mayor of the Dhaka North City Corporation Mr Md. Atiqul Islam appreciated and thanked IEDCR, icddr,b, Emory University and the Rockefeller Foundation for taking up the initiative. In his remark, he said, “This type of research is very important as it assists in preventing public health emergencies. We have to remember that prevention comes before finding a cure.”  

Engr. Taqsem A Khan, in his remark, said, “I hope this study will lead to the creation of a database that will allow us to monitor different types of pathogens in the environment. Dhaka WASA is always very supportive of this type of study.”

Dr Megan Diamond, Director, Global Health Networks, The Rockefeller Foundation, USA also spoke on occasion. Prof. Dr Tahmina Shirin delivered the closing remarks.

The environmental surveillance initiative will be implemented in cooperation with the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) in Dhaka, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), and Office of the Civil Surgeon, Cox?Bazar. The Center for Global Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Emory University, USA, will provide technical assistance, while The Rockefeller Foundation, USA, will provide financial assistance.

National and international public health experts, representatives from the DGHS; IEDCR; Emory University, USA; and icddr,b were also present at the event.