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Story of Bangladeshi father-daughter duo battling against global health inequity

  • Published at 06:32 pm January 15th, 2020
Dr Samir and Dr Sejuti
Photo shows Dr Samir Saha and Dr Sejuti Saha Collected

Samir played an instrumental role in helping Bangladesh introduce vaccines for meningitis and pneumonia

American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist Bill Gates has praised a Bangladeshi father-daughter doctor duo for their fight against global infectious diseases.

In a statement and video titled "Bill Gates’s Heroes in the Field: Drs. Samir and SenjutiSaha", Gates praised Dr SamirSaha and his daughter Dr SenjutiSaha for their efforts.

"Together, the father–daughter team are a dynamic duo of global health. They are working to close the gap in healthcare delivery between low-income countries, where child mortality is high, and wealthier countries, by using data, state-of-the-art diagnostics, and vaccines to battle infectious diseases. Their research is not only being used in Bangladesh, but by other countries in South Asia facing similar health challenges," the statement said.

Dr SamirSaha, a professor of microbiology, and his daughter Dr SenjutiSaha work together at the Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF), an organization Samir helped found to reduce child mortality in Bangladesh and other countries.

Samir, who also heads the department of microbiology at the Dhaka Shishu Hospital in Dhaka, played an instrumental role in helping Bangladesh introduce vaccines for meningitis and pneumonia, two major childhood killers. 

"While those vaccines were available in the US and other rich countries, they were not in low-income countries like Bangladesh. Working diligently to document the burden of these diseases, Samir provided the data and evidence to convince public health policymakers to support the rollout of both vaccines, which have already prevented thousands of deaths," the statement added.

Senjuti focuses on finding simpler ways to diagnose mysterious illnesses in poor countries that affect newborns and children. In 2017, when there was an unexplained spike in meningitis cases among children in Bangladesh, Senjuti was able to unravel the mystery by analyzing the genetic material of the children. (The meningitis cases, she discovered, were caused by an outbreak of Chikungunya fever, a virus spready by mosquitos).

"But in order to get to the bottom of the mystery, she had to fly the samples to the US for analysis. She’s since set up a low-cost diagnostic tool in Bangladesh to help the country quickly address future outbreaks of meningitis and other deadly diseases."

The statement also noted that the information that the Sahas are gathering from their research is critical for Bangladesh, which lacks many of the resources needed to diagnose and treat illnesses. The data CHRF gathers has been helping to inform government policy decisions for the most effective ways to combat diseases. It is also being used to design new vaccines.

Bill Gates also praised the work of the CHRF, along with strong support for childhood immunization and health care by the government, as Bangladesh continues to push down its under-5 mortality rate and improve overall healthcare delivery. 

"Vaccine coverage in Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, has now reached 98%," the statement read.