The health heritage of Bangalore

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ayurvedagram-heritageMichael Patrao, September 3, 2013: Preferred by the British for its salubrious climate, Bangalore also attracted epidemics due to the inability of the infrastructure to meet the needs of an ever-growing population. The administration joined hands with philanthropists, missionaries and others 200 years ago to set up the base for what has today developed into one of the top destinations for world class healthcare, says Michael Patrao.

In recent times Bangalore has emerged as a destination for medical and wellness tourism providing vacationing and medical care facilities for people of many countries of the world. But its genesis as a health destination goes back to at least 200 years.
The British troops who were first stationed at Srirangapatna after the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 were later shifted to the Bangalore Civil and Military Station in 1809 mainly on the ground that Bangalore was conducive to good health. The salubrious climate of Bangalore attracted the ruling class.

Even Mahatma Gandhi stayed at Nandi Hills to recuperate from ill health. He was a state guest of the Maharaja (Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV) in 1927 and 1936. An ailing Gandhi stayed at Nandi Hills for 45 days in 1936 to recuperate from a spell of high blood pressure. Local archives record that the Mahatma’s recovery was swift during this stay. When he left the hill station on May 31, his secretary, Mahadev Desai, wrote in the visitor’s book: “Many thanks for all the kindness extended during Gandhiji’s stay on the hill.”

As Bangalore gained prominence because the British liked its climate, the city became crowded. As a result, civic amenities like good housing and water supply became inadequate to meet the needs of the growing population and epidemics broke out.

The most violent of these epidemics was the Great Plague which decimated the population and rendered considerable parts of the city uninhabitable in a matter of months in 1899-1900. Till the mid-forties, the threat of plague outbreaks was very real, but the improvements in housing conditions, widespread inoculation and “cyanogassing” of houses to kill rats began to bear fruit and the number of outbreaks reduced from 248 in 1944 to a mere 23 in 1947.

The municipality encouraged private enterprise in killing rats by offering a six-paise reward for every rat killed.

From the very beginning the government was concerned about the epidemics and set up the Vaccine Institute on Lalbagh Road in 1881 to teach students to prepare vaccines and a Public Health Institute in 1911 to do chemical, bacteriological, toxicological and public health research.

The government also opened dispensaries in various parts of the City and encouraged philanthropists like Rao Bahadur Annaswamy Mudaliar, Aga Abdulla Sait and Rao Bahadur Yele Mallappa Chetty to open dispensaries. The Saadut Dispensary in Shoolay, Annaswamy Mudaliar Dispensary in Frazer Town, Veloo Mudaliar Dispensary on Cavalry Road (now Kamaraj Road) and the Ulsoor Dispensary were opened due to the gifts of this philanthropists to the municipality.

The earliest of the maternity homes was set up on Cenotaph Road (now Nrupathunga Road) through the generosity of Yele Mallappa Chetty in 1880. In the cantonment, the Haji Sir Ismail Sait Gosha Hospital was set up to cater to the needs of Muslim women. The City Corporation set up a number of maternity homes, several through private donation, from the mid-fifties of the 20th Century.

An asylum for leprosy patients and two sanitoria for treatment of tuberculosis (TB) also came up. The Epidemic Diseases Hospital (also known as Isolation Hospital) was opened subsequently to take care of epidemic diseases near Byappanahalli, where the Metro station has come up today. The hospital was set up at what was then outside the city limits and administered by the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Today, a portion of the land belonging to the hospital has been acquired by the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited, which has offered to build a 100-bed, four-storey facility on its premises as compensation.

The Bowring Hospital was established in 1867 for men and Lady Curzon Hospital was established in 1890 for women and children. The hospitals were named after Lewis Bentham Bowring, who was the chief commissioner of Mysore and Coorg from 1862 to 1870 and Lady Victoria Curzon, wife of Lord Curzon, who was the Viceroy between 1899-1905.

The foundation stone of the Victoria Hospital was laid by the Maharani Regent in 1877 and the building was opened by Lord Curzon, viceroy and Governor-General of India in December 1900. The outpatient department was opened in 1924. The total outlay on the building, as in 1936, was Rs 8.70 lakh. The Minto Ophthalmic Hospital was opened in 1913 on Albert Victor Road. Today it is attached to the Bangalore Medical College & Research Institute.

Simultaneously, the government encouraged private agencies to start hospitals and the St Martha’s Hospital was started by a congregation of Catholic nuns in 1886, while the missionary women of the Anglican denomination started a hospital for women and children near the Cantonment Railway Station in 1893. It was established by the Church of England, Zenana Mission, and was called the Zenana Mission Hospital. With the inauguration of the Church of South India in the year 1947, it was renamed Church of South India Hospital, Bangalore.

It was only in 1965 that it developed into a General Hospital to cater to both men and women. Over the years it has evolved into a general and multispeciality hospital.
The Bangalore Baptist Hospital is the last of the hospitals in the City and was started by the Southern Baptist missionaries. It began as an 80-bed general hospital in Hebbal in 1973.

Military hospital

The Command Hospital Air Force, Bangalore had its beginning as a small 50-bedded Military Hospital, which was raised for British troops in 1816 at Bangalore. The hospital shifted to its present location (Agram) in 1868 and during World War-II its bed strength was raised to 300. In 1962, the bed strength was further increased to 602 beds. On  May 1, 1968 this Military Hospital was taken over by the Indian Air Force and on December 2, 1977 this Air Force Hospital was upgraded and designated as Command Hospital Air Force, Bangalore.

A hospital for specialised treatment of mental disorders was opened in the beginning of the last century. The Lunatic Asylum which came into being in the latter part of the 19th Century was renamed as Mental Hospital in 1925 by the erstwhile Government of Mysore. This hospital and All India Institute of Mental Health established in 1954 by the Government of India were amalgamated in 1974, and thus was formed the autonomous National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).

In 1994, NIMHANS was declared a Deemed University by the University Grants Commission with academic autonomy. The Institute functions under the direction of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka. Several national and international funding organisations provide resources for research.

The Bangalore Medical College, now renamed Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, was started as a private medical college in 1955 by Mysore Education Society. The founders of this society were Dr R Shivaram, Dr Mekhri, Dr B K Narayana Rao and Dr B V Ramaswamy. In 1957, the college was handed over to the then Government of Mysore and was affiliated to Mysore University and then on to the Bangalore University. In 1996, it got affiliated to the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences. St John’s Hospital and Medical College was established in 1963 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. Upgraded over the years and now known as St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, it celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year.

The Jayachamarajendra Institute of Indian Medicine in Seshadripuram near the City railway station was started in 1944. On the occasion of the Laying of the Foundation Stone held on December 11, 1943, the Maharaja of Mysore declared: “I have watched with interest the researches made in this country from time to time in the indigenous systems of medicine. For want of facilities or due to other circumstances, they do not seem to have been conducted on modern recognised lines. It is only exhaustive investigation based on scientific methods in a well-equipped laboratory that will help the achievement of definite results of permanent value.”

The Western system of medicine began in 1831 with the appointment of a surgeon to the Mysore Commission to improve the health services. Today, besides the multi-speciality hospitals, the traditional systems of medicines are making a comeback with the opening of ayurvedic spas and wellness clinics. The health services in Bangalore have come a full circle.

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