The History, Methodology, and Main Findings of the Matlab Project In Bangladesh
K. M. A. AZIZ AND W. HENRY MOSLEY
The Matlab population is the largest population under continuous surveillance in the world. The project was established in 1963 by the Pakistan-SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory (PSCRL), the predecessor of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) for the purpose of field-testing cholera vaccines. The organization of the Matlab field operations was driven from the outset by rigid technical and ethical requirements for the implementation of prospective double-blind, controlled vaccine field trials. These high scientific standards have been applied to field operations in Matlab ever since.
Over 300 national and international scientists have been involved directly or indirectly in research projects in Matlab over the past three decades. The range, breadth, and depth of the research projects encompassing diarrhoeal diseases, health services, population, nutrition, and maternal and child health cannot even be simply listed in this short paper. Fortunately, in 1990, the ICDDR,B produced a well-indexed and abstracted Annotated Bibliography of ICDDR,B Studies in Matlab, Bangladesh which provides citations of the 567 papers and publications produced to date for scholars needing detailed information about the work carried out there ( Habte and Strong 1990).
This chapter will highlight major elements in the design and implementation of Matlab field operations and related data-management issues. These will be discussed in the context of the technical requirements for some of the major research projects that were carried out in the Matlab area. Major attention will be given to the establishment and evolution of the demographic surveillance system (DSS), as this provides the foundation for all other field research projects. In addition, some operational issues related to a number of specialized prospective research projects will be briefly noted, particularly those that involve intensive in-depth study of sub-populations using a variety of measuring instruments from the biomedical and social sciences. This chapter will not deal with the technical issues surrounding computer management of large complex databases being generated by the DSS, for which interested parties will need to communicate directly with the ICDDR,B.