In Dhaka, Bangladesh, two-month-old Sammiya flops lifelessly in her mother’s arms, her eyes glazed over.
She is suffering from diarrhoea. This may not sound life-threatening – for most of us (in the West) diarrhoea is unpleasant, it might ruin a holiday or mean a few days off work at worst – but for many people across the world it is a killer.
Globally, a child under five dies every two minutes as a result of diarrhoea: 500,000 a year. Sammiya will not be one of them. She is being treated in the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) in Dhaka, the only diarrhoeal hospital in world, which treats 220,000 patients a year.
As the birthplace of cholera – one of the biggest and deadliest causes of diarrhoea – Bangladesh has a lot of experience in dealing with diarrhoeal disease and, more recently, of doing so successfully.
Rather than a disease itself, diarrhoea is the symptom of an infection. In the ICDDR,B clinic in Dhaka, for example, around 20 per cent of the patients come in suffering from cholera, and the rest from rotavirus, shigella, salmonella and e-coli.