While everyone is paranoid about social distancing and isolation, staff working at Kasturba hospital are risking their lives to save others. I was motivated to write this article after visiting the facility 2 days back. The history of the hospital is truly illustrious and glorious. It is worth including in the pilgrimage sites of Mumbai especially for the health care professionals.
It is one of the first-ever hospital in India that was built during the British colonial era by the East India Company which introduced western medicine to our land. Being established by the British in 1892 it was in earlier times known as the “Arthur road hospital” or “City hospital”. Initially, it was built up as a sanatorium where people suffering from the different infectious diseases were kept in tents. It is located in Chinchpokli opposite the famous Arthur Road Jail also known as the Mumbai Central Prison which is the largest and oldest prison of Mumbai. It is the only infectious disease hospital in the city and probably best in the country. Its presence is not acknowledged by many throughout the year but all of a sudden when the city faces issues with quarantine and infectious diseases control it is pushed into the glare of publicity grabbing everyone’s attention.
It is probably the largest hospital devoted to infectious diseases in South East Asia. It is one of the six specialty hospitals under the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with all staff being well trained in infectious diseases. Except for tuberculosis and leprosy, all other infectious diseases like meningitis, hepatitis, cholera, plague, and diarrhea are quarantined and treated here. It also has established isolation wards dedicated to the dreaded viral hemorrhagic fever caused by Ebola virus. Apart from treating infectious maladies, it has a molecular diagnostic and central analytic laboratory and also facilities for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It is built according to the British architectural style with wards named after different diseases.
The central analytic laboratory is an exclusive laboratory analyzing drugs and formulations from the different hospitals under the Municipal Corporation to provide the best quality of drugs. The Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory established in April 2007 upgrades at a regular interval to provide the cutting-edge diagnostic facility.
In 1920-30 when the diagnosis of scarlet fever could not be established and the press went ahead to label it as “the mystery disease”. Many patients affected with symptom suggestive of scarlet fever were referred to Arthur road hospital from all over Bombay. P. T. Patecthe then superintendent of City hospital was instrumental in analyzing the situation and also was successful in isolating streptococcus by culturing the throat swab and blood from the suspected patients.
Noteworthy people include Nasserwanji Hormusji Choksy who graduated from Grant Medical College. He was initially in charge of a hospital treating smallpox during the year 1888 when there was an epidemic. He was quite proficient in his job as a result of which he was appointed as the Medical Superintendent of the Arthur Road hospital. During the period when the plague was raging rampantly in India, he stood as a hero working indefatigably and inexorably in the face of indifference and mistrust of the public. That was the time when clerks, tram conductors, railway guards, engineers claimed to be the “plague specialists”!
In 1896 plague affected the Nowroji slums in Mandvi from where it spread like a wildfire to the other parts of Mumbai claiming the lives of thousands of people. Arthur road hospital welcomed all helpless people affected by this deadly disease during this epidemic. With several misconceptions about the hospital in the minds of the people, numerous victims were sent out of pressure or once they were beyond any help. Many of the cases admitted were moribund as a result of which the hospital witnessed many deaths. The fear of death gripped many hospital staff because of which they ran away not even returning to claim their wages. With numerable cases piling up and staff running away, Choksy had to face the challenge of saving the multitude.
Choksy carefully observed and investigated in detail more than 4000 cases. He was considered a pioneer of controlled clinical trial and also was successful in obtaining encouraging results by experimentally injecting Lustig’s curative serum into the affected individuals the results of which was published in The Lancet, The Indian Medical Gazette, and the British Medical Journal.
In 1897, he contracted the disease but was saved due to the timely use of Alexander Yersin serum. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the title ‘Khan Bahadur’ by the British. He also has an award named after him in Kasturba hospital.
In association with John Andrew Turner, Bombay’s activist Health Officer he set up the Bombay Sanitary Association, in 1904 to promote sanitation through lectures and training.
Another physician who notably led the hospital is Dr. Accacio Gabriel Vegas, President of Bombay Corporation who discovered the bubonic plague and whose timely intervention helped save many lives in Bombay. He also went ahead to inoculate 18,000 inhabitants with the Haffkines Bubonic Plague prophylactic serum. He helped the deprived and deserted by improving their living condition, providing healthcare and free education. Also improved sanitation by organizing clean-up campaigns eliminating the carriers of the plague.
H1N1 pandemic which occurred in 2009 affecting more than 29,000 people and witnessed the death of more than1800 people across India, the Kasturba hospital was one of the centers providing isolation wards and treatment facilities for the affected patients in Mumbai during those times.
It can be rightly said that the Kasturba hospital has witnessed all of the major epidemics that Mumbai had to battle since ages. We now have the new pandemic of coronavirus with the number of people affected by it increasing day by day. The hospital has again emerged as the messiah for the inhabitants of Mumbai providing facilities for testing and quarantine. The Government and the Municipal Corporation are diligently working towards creating awareness, isolation, preventive measures apart from therapeutic steps. It is well known that the staff at Kasturba Hospital is battling with limited armor and weapons. Even though we have well-equipped glitzy hospitals scattered all over the city, Kasturba Hospital continues to be the beacon of hope in our war against this new epidemic. We salute these Corona Commandos and urge all the health care professionals to visit this hospital as a pilgrimage site.
Acknowledgment – Dr Florida Sharin.