Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad : - 19
A Noble Prize For Hyderabad
by Narendra Luther
Not many people know that the discovery of malaria parasite was made in Hyderabad and that the city can boast of a Nobel Prize.
This discovery was made by Ronald Ross. Son of a general in the Indian army, he was born in Uttar Pradesh in 1857. His heart lay in art, music and literature but to please his father he enrolled for medicine. Even while studying it, he wrote a novel, stories, a number of poems and composed music. He also learnt Italian, German and French and studied the great poets of those languages in the original.
On his first visit to India as a member of the Indian Medical Service, in 1881, Ross was struck by the stark poverty and poor health of the people at Madras and wrote a poem which concludes by asking :
`Cannot the mind that made the engines make,
A nobler life than this ?'
In India he served at a number of places like Madras, Bangalore, Vizianagaram, Quetta, Calcutta Andamans and also Burma.
After 6 years in India he went to England on furlough and obtained a diploma in the then new subject of sanitation and studied bacteriology. On return to India in 1890, he was sent to Bangalore to tackle the cholera epidemic. He recommended a scheme of sanitation there in 1896 which, incidentally was the first sanitation programme in India. He said that the work of scavenger must precede that of the philosopher, artists and politicians !
He became aware of the problem of malaria in Bangalore. The medical theory at that time was that malaria was caused by breathing the damp air of the marshes. Ross began his serious study of the subject while on a holiday in Coonor and identified the two varieties of mosquitoes one of which - later identified as Anopheles - carried the germs.
Ross integrated the isolated findings of Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Laveran and Beauparthy to determine the process of transmission of malaria. He concentrated his efforts on the study of the parasite in the mosquito rather than in the patient.
His Methods :
Ross used to tempt his patients to be bitten by mosquitoes infected by malaria by paying them one rupee each. He would then let loose a swarm of mosquitoes (of which he always kept a bottle-full ready) into the mosquito-net under which the patient was made to sleep. To tempt the mosquitoes, he would wet the bed and the net with water. Then he dissected the infected mosquitoes and examined them under a microscope.
The Discovery :
His last experiment was on a patient called Hussein Khan. And it was the very last mosquito, a dappled Anopheles which showed itself as the carrier of the malaria parasite. Ross thus established that the parasite was sucked in by the female Anopheles, incubated in its stomach for 7 days or more and brought up into its salivary glands in the mouth from where it was injected through its bite to other human beings.
This great discovery of the process of the transmission of malaria was made on 20th August, 1897 at Hyderabad. This led to the methods of control of the dreaded disease.
In 1899 Ross took retirement from the I.M.S. and left India. He got the school of Tropical Medicine established in Liverpool and became a lecturer there.
For his monumental discovery Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902. In 1911 he was knighted.
A Boon to the World :
In 1906, in Ismailia in Egypt he controlled the breeding of mosquitoes by spilling oil over ponds by the side of the newly-dug Suez Canal. The construction of the Panama canal, started in 1890 and abandoned because of the large-scale prevalence of malaria and yellow fever in 1904, was made possible by applying his methods.
Mauritius, Greece, Cyprus and Spain also implemented malaria control measures under his advise.
Work Against Odds :
All his researches were carried on by him entirely at his own expense and despite obstructions from his superiors. Once his leave was not extended and he was posted back to his regiment where there were no facilities for research. That, however, did not deter him from his mission.
Versatile Person :
Ross was a person of striking versatility. He was a prolific writer of poetry, novels, essays and dramas.
His `Memoirs' written in 1923 are full of wit and sarcasm and it is not beyond him to have a dig at himself. His acceptance speech at the ceremony for the award of the Nobel Prize is remarkable not only for its brevity but also for his humility in acknowledging all those scientists, discoverers and inventors whose work he had built upon. He concluded it by referring to, "the dingy little military hospital, the old cracked microscope and the medicines bottles which constituted all the laboratory and apparatus which I possessed for the purposes of taking one of the most redoubtable of scientific problems". Sir Ronald Ross died full of glory in 1932.
Many countries of the world acknowledge the debt of gratitude to him. Malaria is a public health problem in more than 90 countries representing 90% of the world population. In India it was a major scourge till 1953 when a National Malaria Control Programme was launched followed by the National Malaria Eradication Programme in 1958 to banish Malaria within a decade. By 1965 the incidence came down from 75 million to 0.1 million cases. Then there was a slip - up and the level of incidence since 1977 has been 2 million cases annually. In the land where the great discovery was made, malaria continues to rage!
It is also sad to reflect on what we have done for Ross. There is a ramshackle building near the airport to which he referred in his Nobel speech. The road leading from Ranigunj to the airport was named after him but was soon changed to `Minister's Road'. In an ironic tribute to his memory of his work, swarms of mosquitoes inhabit his unpretentious laboratory tucked away near the airport!
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