A Tribute to ORS Discoverer

Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis

The Man Who Saved 70 Million Lives

(12 Nov1934 – 16 Oct 2022)

Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis, the pioneer behind ORS treatment for diarrhoea, passed away on 16th October, 2022 in Kolkata. He was 87 years old. His discovery of a simple yet revolutionary remedy, ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) helped save millions of lives in India and in the neighbouring countries.

Dr. Mahalanabis was born on November 12, 1934 in West Bengal. He studied in Kolkata and London before joining the prestigious Johns Hopkins University International Centre for Medical Research and Training in  Kolkata where he carried out research in Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT)

During the Indo-Pakistani war  (1971) millions of people  were displaced from the then-East Pakistan, who took refuge in India. Soon diarrhoea and cholera broke out in the refugee camp due to the unhygienic conditions and undersupply of clean drinking water.

Common treatment for diarrhoea was intravenous fluid.  but stocks of intravenous fluid started running out. Worse, there weren’t many trained professionals to administer the intravenous fluid.

Since Dr. Mahalanabis was researching oral rehydration therapy; he knew that a solution of sugar and salt could be a life-saving treatment at this point.

Dr. Mahalanabis  prepared solutions consisting of - 22 gm glucose (as commercial monohydrate) -3.5 gm sodium chloride (as table salt)  and -2.5 gm sodium bicarbonate (as baking soda) per litre of water Stored  it in large drums from where the patients or their relatives could help themselves.

Later, he wrote in WHO’s South-East Asia Journal of Public Health “The huge amounts of intravenous fluids that would be required, plus the problems of transport and lack of trained personnel for their administration, represented an almost insurmountable logistical problem in treating cholera effectively under such circumstances by the standard methods currently in use. We suggested the use of oral fluids as the only recourse in this situation.”

“Within two or three weeks, we realised that it [ORS treatment] was working and that it seemed to be all right in the hands of untrained people… We prepared pamphlets describing how to mix salt and glucose and distributed them along the border. The information was also broadcast on a clandestine Bangladeshi radio station.”

The fatality rate dropped to 3% because of a simple remedy - ORS From 1975 to 1979, Dr. Mahalanabis worked in cholera control for WHO in Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan.

In India, July 29 is observed as ORS Day. And today, the WHO recommends a solution of anhydrous glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and Trisodium citrate dihydrate as the ORS formula.

In 2002, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis along with Dr Nathaniel F Pierce was awarded the Pollin Prize by Columbia University (equivalent of Nobel in peadiatrics). In 2006, he was awarded the Prince Mahidol Award by the government of Thailand.

n 1995, Dr. Mahalanabs retired as the director of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research, Dhaka. 26th March 2021 marked the 50th Anniversary of Bangladesh Liberation Day.

While ORS is a cost-effective treatment for diarrhoea Today’s medical treatments cost lakhs that can easily drain life’s savings Convert your hospital bills to ₹0

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