One of the contributing scientists to invent ORS (oral rehydration solution) saline, and former chief physician of ICDDR,B`s Dhaka Dr. Rafiqul Islam breathed his last at Apollo Hospital in Dhaka yesterday morning. He had a heart attack last month and also had been suffering from old-age complications. He was 82.
Born in 1936 in Comilla`s Chauddagram, Rafiqul completed his MBBS from Dhaka Medical College, joined ICDDR,B in the mid-60s and retired in 2000. Rafiqul did his higher studies on tropical medicine and hygiene in England. The father of three, including two daughters, conducted a series of clinical trials at the ICDDR,B but the most important one was the ORS.
An epidemic of cholera broke out among the Bangladeshi refugees, who took shelter in India`s West Bengal during the 1971 Liberation War. But as intravenous fluid, the then only medicine of diarrheal diseases, ran out, ORS came as a savior to the refugees, saving many lives.
Eventually, ORS was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). After the independence of Bangladesh, the solution got widespread publicity. In 1980, Bangladeshi NGO BRAC created a door-to-door and person-to-person awareness program about the ORS for use by mothers at home.
According to a Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, diarrhea caused two percent of deaths of children under age five from 2007-11 compared to almost 20 percent in 1988-93. About 78 percent of children with diarrhea have been treated with ORS since 2007.
This helped Bangladesh become one of eight countries to have reduced mortality rates of children under five by at least two-thirds since 1990.
ORS is now a mainstream treatment around the world, with UNICEF distributing 500 million sachets to 60 countries each year.
Therefore, worldwide diarrheal diseases caused millions of deaths in the developing world. From that perspective, development of ORS, which was known as “Dhaka Saline”, has made a radical improvement in the treatment of the disease, which leads to fatality if not treated timely.