It is so easy to think about global health problems as insurmountable; problems a world away for which no solutions can be found. AIDS, malnutrition, poor water and sanitation, tuberculosis are just some of the problems we think of when we think about global health. This week, ABC News launches an exciting new initiative, supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to bring the stories behind these problems to a wide audience. But more importantly, we will share the stories of the potential solutions being undertaken by an incredible group of nearly invisible heroes. The goal is simple: to inspire people here to do little things to help these efforts that can promote change and save lives.
This Friday, the initiative kicks off with a special 20/20 "Be the Change: Save a Life," anchored by Diane Sawyer. I'm doing a story on the impact dirty water has on children in Bangladesh. Every day around the world 4000 children die from diarrheal disease transmitted largely from dirty water--that means nearly 2 million die every year. You'll meet Parvin, a young mother who has already lost one child to diarrheal disease and now struggles to find clean water before her next child is born. You'll also meet Dr. Steve Luby, a soft-spoken doctor from the CDC who has been working passionately for decades to tackle the problem of dirty water.
For me this has been a very personal journey. Twenty years ago I got my first job in public health, working in Bangladesh for Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health at the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh. I was a newly-minted pediatrician with a vision of tackling the world's biggest health problems. With little formal training in research, I joined a group of mostly women, working with poor mothers in the slums of Dhaka to improve health. For me this year was life-changing--the commitment of this team of mainly Bangladeshi scientists was inspirational. I returned from Dhaka and started my career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic investigator, determined to get the training I needed to try to make a difference in the world.
For my story on 20/20, I returned to Dhaka. I hoped to see a country in which the living conditions had improved significantly. According to published statistics, infant and childhood mortality had plummeted since I was last there. But, what I saw and what you will see on Friday is a country in which much has improved but so much still needs to be done: A land of incredible beauty: rivers, lakes and deltas; water everywhere, but little drinkable; a land in which the people are resilient and the public health community is fighting to provide what so many here in America take for granted: clean water and basic sanitation. And you will learn how easy it is for you and your family to contribute to this effort during this holiday season. I hope you will tune in and realize that you too can be the change and save a life.
More information on "Be the Change: Save a Life" below:
Watch a preview - http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/change-save-life-12392672
ABC News.com - http://abcnews.go.com/Health/GlobalHealth
SaveOne.net - http://www.saveone.net
Follow me on Twitter: @DrRichardBesser