In the current global pandemic, science has become a subject of public discourse to a degree perhaps unprecedented in recent decades. Emerging from the laboratory to the public square, science has been politicized, but mostly people have become more acutely aware of the vital role of science in improving the quality of life and preserving life itself. Let us then praise science and scientists.
Bangladeshi FIRDAUSI QADRI, seventy years old, was born to a middle-class family that encouraged women to pursue an education and a career. Early on, she decided to specialize in medical research, earning a degree in biochemistry, and culminating in a doctorate from Liverpool University in the United Kingdom. Set on working in her homeland, she taught in a local university and in 1988 joined the International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), an international health research institute based in Dhaka. Here, Dr. QADRI focused on communicable diseases, immunology, vaccine development and clinical trials.
Her most challenging engagements came in the fight against cholera and typhoid, major diseases in Bangladesh and Asian and African countries with poor access to safe water, sanitation, education, and medical care. In this, she had a key role in the development of a more affordable oral cholera vaccine (OCV) and the typhoid conjugate vaccine (Vi-TCV) for adults, children, and even infants as young as nine months. Under the auspices of World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), she led a team of experts in the 2017-2020 OCV mass vaccination of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, thus preventing a mass cholera outbreak in what is the largest refugee camp in the world. In 2020, she helped facilitate the OCV vaccination of 1.2 million people in six high-risk districts of Dhaka. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. QADRI was involved in vaccine trials and Covid-19 testing and research in Bangladesh.
Beyond current health interventions, Dr. QADRI dreams of building in Bangladesh the human and technical infrastructure for research in health science. It is a role she is well positioned to fill, having participated in scientific networks and institutions both locally and globally. In 2012 she was awarded the Christophe Rodolfe Grand Prize from the Fondation Christophe et Rodolfe Mérieux. Two years later, she used her prize money to found the Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives (ideSHi). Dr. QADRI leads ideSHi, which conducts biomedical research and runs training courses and a testing center. It has become a hub of scientific activity by local and visiting scientists in Bangladesh.
Dr. QADRI loves to train and mentor young scientists and inspire them by putting them in contact with well-known scientists in other countries. But building local capability is her greater goal. She is focused on upgrading laboratories so that Bangladeshi scientists will not have to go abroad (as she did early on) for lack of facilities available. Building local capability is demonstrated in her work on typhoid and cholera vaccines (already approved in Bangladesh and other countries), her current work on E. coli diarrhea vaccine, and interest in Covid-19 vaccine development.
Dedicated to science, she believes that finding answers to the health problems in her country will benefit other countries as well. She has worked in Bangladesh as a scientist for more than forty years but has no thought of retiring. Of her research niche, ideSHi, she says: “I want it to be bigger in the coming years and self-supporting in the future, less dependent on international funding. It should carry out research at the highest level and have a good number of scientists who will carry out this work. I am looking at that in the future.”
In electing FIRDAUSI QADRI to receive the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her passion and life-long devotion to the scientific profession; her vision of building the human and physical infrastructure that will benefit the coming generation of Bangladeshi scientists, women scientists in particular, and her untiring contributions to vaccine development, advanced biotechnological therapeutics and critical research that has been saving millions of precious lives.