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Interview with Catherine Spencer from icddr,b


by Sabia Kamali:

In 2017, on behalf of icddr,b the Director of Communications and Change Management Catherine Spencer was part of a team who accepted the Hilton Humanitarian Prize –the worlds largest annual humanitarian award, which is presented to non-profit organisations who have made tremendous contribution towards alleviating human suffering.

Catherine is originally from Hertfordshire, she moved to Bangladesh two and half years ago, with her husband who works for the British High Commission, she was fortunate to find a job with icddr,b, (formerly known as the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) icddr,b is an international health research organisation located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We were pleased to interview  Catherine who came to UK, on a short vacation visited Bangla Mirror’s office, in London, situated near Brick lane, which is not only famous for curries, but its also famous for its street art featuring artists like Banksy.


Over a cup of coffee, Catherine,   Bangla Mirror editor Abdul Karim Goni and I where reminiscing, the beauty of Bangladesh and the amazing work icddr, b does to save lives through research and treatment, icddr,b addresses some of the most critical health concerns facing the world today, ranging from improving neonatal survival to HIV/AIDS. Catherine was saying for her, the history of the organisation is tied up with the history of Bangladesh, as in, it started before liberation, it played an important role during liberation as it treated diarrhoea disease outbreak and after  it dealt with the famine. Its also the home where oral disease solution was discovered. In the 60s, Where researchers from icddr,b  developed oral rehydration solution (ORS) to treat the symptoms of diarhoeal disease and carried out landmark studies demonstrating its life-saving potential. ORS is estimated to have saved tens of millions of lives worldwide.  Currently, icddr,b is one of the leading research institutes of the Global South.

Catherine Spencer is part of the 4,200 strong International Health Research organisation in Dhaka, she works with some of the world- leading scientist and researchers including public health scientists, laboratory scientists, clinicians, nutritionists, epidemiologists, demographers, social and behavioral scientists, IT professionals, to fund low-cost  innovative health solutions that has resulted in saving millions of lives in Bangladesh. Her priorities have been to improve life, ensure people live longer and a healthier life via a low-cost innovations.

Catherine Spencer  spoke about few of the projects passionately one was Mat for Measuring Maternal Blood Loss – Which was invented by icddr,b scientists to develop and evaluate an absorbent birth mat that, when fully saturated, indicates that mothers need specialist medical care. Along with misoprostol to limit bleeding and umbilical cord cleaning tools, this mat has been incorporated into an innovative safe delivery kit now in widespread use.


She also mentioned her focus is to get people to know and understand that icddr,b does fantastic things, the other project she spoke about was; the one she is working on at the moment, which is bubble CPAP. Which recently had received lots of publicity in Bangladesh and around the world, costing very little bottle tubes which can play the role of a ventilator. It’s basically a non-invasive and used to deliver oxygen via tube to premature newborns experiencing respiratory distress syndrome: symptoms similar to those in severe pneumonia patients. In premature newborns, the lung has a tendency to collapse and bubble CPAP prevents this collapse by maintaining continued sustained pressure of oxygen in the lung.

According to Catherine several factors have been central to their success. Firstly, being embedded within a developing country, we are intimately familiar with health and health systems challenges in such settings. Also apart from being major clinical research, iccddr,b’s Dhaka Hospital is a beacon of health care excellence, treating more than 140,000 patients each year and setting the standard for treating infectious disease and malnutrition, among other conditions.

Her biggest challenge, apart from the roads and traffic in Dhaka has been coming up with solutions that is affordable, effective and efficient that will make a real change to the lives of vulnerable people .

Catherine Spencer, appealed to the British Bangladeshis to get involved in the fantastic job, icddr,b does and to help out financially to  continue treating 200,000 people free of charge every year in its dhaka and Matlab sites, every year saving thousands of lives, icddr,b is grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for its long-term financial support that it provides. We work in close collaboration with the government of Bangladesh, to help generate evidence to inform policy development.

You can find out more about icddr,b and its hospital appeal at https://donate.icddrb.org/why_donate