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.