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Global Outreach | Russell Johnson, M.D.


LOCATION: Dhaka, Bangladesh
MISSION: Combating poverty-related disease

Russell Johnson, ’13 M.D., took a year away from his formal medical education to be part of a clinical research team at the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), situated in the heart of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka — one of the world’s most densely populated and rapidly growing cities.

Johnson, who is now a medicine-pediatrics resident at the University of Utah, took this photo at the ICDDR,B-affiliated Matlab Hospital, where he found a mother and child looking out upon one of the many rivers and village shops in the area. Matlab Hospital and the main Dhaka Hospital treat thousands of children each year for diarrhea and pneumonia; many of those children are also malnourished.

Here is an excerpt of an essay Johnson wrote, originally published in Minnesota Medicine, reflecting on his experience in Bangladesh.

“I always imagined I would cry the first time I saw a patient die; but I did not even react. … What saddened me more than his death was hearing that a large group of children throughout Bangladesh regularly meet a similar fate. The boy’s death was caused by rapidly progressive pneumonia. The origin of that pneumonia was poverty.

“I sometimes felt minuscule in the face of the enormous problems afflicting Bangladesh, as if my work would not make a drop of difference in the sea of human suffering. But then I remembered that for every child who died at Dhaka Hospital, many more children were saved. The ability to save lives, to prevent a child from dying from a second bout of sclerema, motivates the clinicians to continue helping their impoverished patients. Watching them work and seeing how human suffering can be alleviated with an astute mind and a gentle touch has renewed my dedication to medicine. My time in Bangladesh helped me realize that as members of the medical profession, we are uniquely positioned to intervene, to overcome death by poverty.”

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