Can you DIG saving the lives of children?

Dec 09, 2015


Dr. David Shoultz
Program Leader, Drug Development and Devices and Tools, PATH

How are we going to save the 550,000 children who still die of diarrhea each year? It's a daunting question. While vaccines against the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea are key to prevention, treatment should also remain an important focus.  We know that oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc are the cornerstone treatments for diarrhea and that this combination already saves many children. While we still need to improve awareness about, access to, and use of ORS and zinc, we also need to identify the underlying causes of severe diarrhea in children and develop new approaches and innovations in treatments, diagnostics, and nutrition to address those causes. In fact, a recent report by Innovation Countdown 2030 highlighted new treatments for severe diarrhea as having the potential to save an estimated 251,000 children's lives.  That's a very attractive opportunity!


On a personal level, we are passionate about saving the lives of children and both of our organizations—icddr,b and PATH—have a strong history of innovations to address diarrheal disease. icddr,b (a global health research institution based in Bangladesh) was central in developing ORS and in demonstrating the effectiveness of zinc to treat diarrhea, and has an extensive portfolio of diarrheal disease research, particularly focusing on vaccines, behavioral and environmental interventions, diagnostics and treatment; PATH's history and current work is rooted in advancing health technologies for low-resource settings, as well as improving access to proven interventions and strengthening healthy behaviors like handwashing with soap and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life. Because of our passion and the work of our respective organizations, we agreed to serve as co-chairs of the newly-formed Diarrhea Innovations Group (DIG)—an open source, global network of innovators committed to reducing child deaths from diarrhea by assembling like-minded organizations to accelerate the pace of innovative tools and approaches.


Modeled on the successful Pneumonia Innovations Team, the principle behind DIG is simple. If we bring together innovators and experts from industry, research, and implementing organizations, we can break down the research and innovation silos, foster review and debate around the needs and the associated innovations, and crowd source solutions to bottlenecks.  Note that we're focused on not just ameliorating the most obvious symptom of this deadly disease, we're looking to address the underlying conditions - infection, environmental enteropathy, and malnutrition - that may cause and result from diarrheal disease.  It's an important challenge that is going to require a sustained collaborative effort.


The DIG will play a specific role in contributing to this effort by:

  • Convening bi-monthly group conference calls when we will hear a member speak about their research or innovation followed by all of us brainstorming on potential impact and solutions to challenges. 
  • Holding sub-group calls for members with special interest areas in treatment, nutrition, or diagnostics. 
  • Matchmaking—because we'll be familiar with the research focus and innovation of many organizations, we will connect organizations and individuals from different sectors who are working in complementary areas. The matchmaking might focus on connecting members around similar research and technology or, in some cases, supporting the identification of funding sources to advance an innovation with particular promise.


We welcome participation from anyone around the world working in the diarrheal disease space. At the same time, one of DIG's core operating principles will be to intentionally feature and listen to voices in countries where diarrheal diseases take the highest toll. These innovators and experts are on the front lines. They see the challenges on a daily basis and have special insight into the potential solutions and what will work.


As a member, there is no expectation that you will join us in every discussion, but we hope that you will join us in this exciting journey to engage, exchange opportunities, build new partnerships, and advance this neglected field. Want to DIG in with us? Please visit or contact us at for more information.


Photo credit: PATH.