Laboc Hospital - A Nobel Prize winner’s workplace
A fact which is largely unknown of but nonetheless true is that it was in the tranquil of more than a century old British Raj hospital at Laboc, 32 kmsfrom Silchar, that Nobel Prize winner Dr. Ronald Ross did his research on the malaria parasite and came out with his findings on the cause of the disease. Located amidst the lush green tea bushes of Dewan Group of Tea Estates against the forested backdrop of Barail hills, the unique laboratorywith the limited resources of the time provided the idyllic atmosphere for Ronald Ross to work for the cause to which he dedicated himself. His tireless pursuit to identify the malaria bacteria in female mosquitoes ultimately brought him the greatest honour in medicine in 1902.
According to the records of the hospital, it was Dr. Graham Col Ville Ramsay, CIE, OVE, AIH, MD, CHB (EDIN), DTM and H (ENG) who was the second medical officer to assist the first Chief Medical Officer Dr. Henry Joseph Grover. This was at a time when tropical diseases like malaria, viral fever, tuberculosis and typhoid were rampant. It was malaria in particular which afflicted the tea-workers and claiming numerous lives. The problem was so critical that Dr. Ramsay was seized with the spectre of the disease. It was he who invited Dr. Ronald Ross, to study the problem of malaria in Barak Valley.
Dr. Ronald Ross accepted thecall and began his research in the simple laboratory of Labac Hospital. He was in fact born in Almora in 1857. He chose, among all places Labac as the base of his research. It was in 1892 that he could establish that female mosquitoes were the cause of malaria. In the laboratory, the medical tools and implements as well as the microscope used by him are preserved to this day. Some of the sketches of female mosquitoes drawn by him for the purpose of his exploratory work are still hung on a wall. Two such sketches are of A. Loucosphyrus and A. Aconites which are identified as female mosquitoes.
The discovery of the cause of malaria was an epoch making event in the annals of medical science and till today and the doctors and paramedical staff recollect with pride the name of Dr. Ronald Ross. His discovery was a milestone in medical science because it not only made the diagnosis of malaria possible but also its treatment with the help of well researched drugs and medicines. Subsequently, the menace of malaria which swept the North East till the 50s could be contained. It came as a boon not only to the country as a whole but beyond the Indian continent.
It however does not mean that malaria has been totally eliminated. The North East, even today accounts for eight to ten percent of all malaria cases in the country. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Ronald Ross, the research continues. Recently, the probe by Regional Medical Research Centre, Dibrugarh has revealed that malaria has acquired resistance to anti-malarial drugs. So, the centre has begun a combination therapy. The study has further revealed that dense forests are home to mosquitoes of eleven genera and 43 species. The researchers at the Dibrugarh Centre have also tried to investigate why spraying of DDT in mosquito-infested areas proves futile. Whatever may be the reasons, in the changing complex scenario, more research such as this will be needed and a day will come when malaria will no longer be as uncontrollable, the overall credit of starting the research and the reaching of a definite conclusion goes to Dr. Ronald Ross.
Dr. Ronald Ross received many honours in addition to the Nobel Prize, and was given Honorary Membership of learned societies of most countries of Europe, and of many other continents. He got an honorary M.D. degree in Stockholm in 1910 at the centenary celebration of the Caroline Institute and his 1923 autobiography Memoirs, Etc. was awarded that year’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Whilst his vivacity and single-minded search for truth caused friction with some people, he enjoyed a vast circle of friends in Europe, Asia and the United States who respected him for his personality as well as for his genius.
In India, Dr. Ross is remembered with great respect. Because of his relentless work on malaria, the deadly epidemic which used to claim thousands of lives every year could be successfully controlled. There are roads named after him in many Indian towns and cities. In Calcutta the road linking Presidency General Hospital with Kidderpore Road has been renamed after him as Sir Ronald Ross Sarani. Earlier this road was known as Hospital Road. In his memory, the regional infectious disease hospital at Hyderabad was named after him as Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Tropical and Communicable Diseases in recognition of his services in the field of tropical diseases. The building where he worked and actually discovered the malarial parasite, located in Secunderabad near the old Begumpet airport, is a heritage site and the road leading up to the building is named Sir Ronald Ross Road. In Ludhiana, Christian Medical College has named its Hostel as “Ross Hostel”. The young doctors often call themselves “Rossians”. The University of Surrey, UK, has named a road after him in its Manor Park Residences.
After 75 years of countless accolades, Dr. Ross’ life ended on the 16th of September 1932 at London.
Jyoti Lal Chowdhury
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