Q and A with Professor Mahmudur Rahman, Bangladesh IEDCR
IANPHI: Professor Rahman, what can you tell us about the pioneering cell-phone based surveillance project pioneered by IEDCR Bangladesh?
[MR] Indeed. With a small amount of money from IANPHI, we [have become] pioneers in the region. In 2012, with IANPHI support, we launched a cell-phone based surveillance initiative. Collaborating with U.S. CDC, universities, and others, too, we received technical assistance support to launch the program. We then evaluated the project, and many development partners became interested. With this small investment from IANPHI, we have been able to scale-up cell-phone based surveillance across the country for communicable diseases. And now we are rolling out NCD cell-phone based surveillance nationwide, too.
IANPHI: How did you become involved in Public Health?
[MR] I began my teaching profession in public health, and from there I started my own career in public health through pursuing my post-graduation, my masters, and my PhD in the subject. During my teaching period, I was only teaching people how to manage an outbreak investigation; I myself had the opportunity to do an outbreak investigation only once. Then, in the last eleven years, I joined this institute as head of the institution at IEDCR, and was able to fully implement or translate my knowledge into practice. Now, I am doing it almost every day, while also preparing others to do the work as well. Currently, our institute’s objective is to provide disease surveillance, outbreak investigation, training, and research.
IANPHI: You mentioned that surveillance is a priority; how has your surveillance system transformed over time?
[MR] We have set up different surveillance systems in the country, and IANPHI has played a great role in helping us do that. Initially our 64 districts and 493 sub-districts were sending reports directly to us so that we could put them into the database. But we wanted to take the process from the district level down to the sub-district level. As members of IANPHI since 2006, we knew there was some seed money we could apply for. So IANPHI sat down with us to prepare the proposal, and we applied for a grant to fund the work. That funding helped us to get started, but we are now doing it on our own, and are making improvements almost every time. So this is an IANPHI contribution that helped us establish our surveillance program and subsequently sustain it still now.
IANPHI: You've mentioned training being a key part of IEDCR's mission. What types of training opportunities does IEDCR provide? How do these increase the capacity of the institute?
[MR] We do a lot of training on the emerging infectious diseases. When something new comes up like MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, or Nepa virus infection, we train people so that they can perform better in an event. We also have longer courses – FETP, masters programs, and a fellowship program with international universities. These are the formal training programs that are running, but we also do training for other personnel, paramedics, and statisticians. And we are still utilizing the support we have received from IANPHI, during the surveillance. The computers we procured are still being used even after that.
IANPHI: Is there collaborative networking between Asian NPHIs? What do you see as the potential value or role of partnerships among NPHIs in the region?
[MR] For some reason, this is not going on too much in the region. And challenges like the frequent changes of the directors in the Asian institutes are also problems because we end up losing contacts. But there are a lot of common health problems in the region so building partnerships would be valuable. Diseases – for example the Nepa virus – know no borders. We investigate the cases in Bangladesh, but there may also be cases on the other side, in Nepal, so we have worked with them to investigate and to provide lab testing, for example.