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Assam's little known Nobel link

The barrack-like buildings that make up the 70-bedded Labac Central Hospital in the outskirts of Silchar have a Nobel connection that very few outside Assam know about. Sidhartha Dutta reports.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 27, 2013 02:08 IST
Sidhartha Dutta

Malswama Mizo, 68, from Katlicherra village in Hailakandi district of Assam, travelled to the neighbouring district of Cachar to get his enlarged prostrate removed because all the hospitals in his district turned him away saying it was a high-risk surgery.

"They prescribed medicines, which I took for years but they did not help. Finally, I got fed up and went to private hospitals in Silchar, who again turned me away," said Mizo, who runs a little fishery in his village.

Then someone suggested he go to B P Kedia Central Hospital in Labac Tea Estate outside Silchar, set up in 1890, to look after the health needs of tea-estate workers.

Over the past 124 years, the hospital has grown into a 70-bedded facility that caters to the medical needs of not just the Tea Estate but also the villages around it.

"The surgeon not only removed my prostate but also removed a stone in my urinary bladder, which was detected when they screened me for the surgery," said Mizo, who gets his name from his tribe.

"Malswama had an extremely enlarged prostrate, which had grown from its normal 4-5 gm to 81gm. When he came to us, the enlarged gland had created a protrusion in his abdomen," says said Dr Shyamal Dutta, medical officer at the hospital. "Private nursing homes turned him away because they feared complications."

Like him, many villagers get simple surgeries done at the B P Kedia Central Hospital - popularly referred to as the Labac Central Hospital - which functions on a fantastically minimal staff of two doctors and 14 nurses.

Till Silchar Medical College was set up in 1968, B P Kedia Central Hospital would cater to everyone in the Barak Valley, comprising of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj, and also to the neighbouring states of Assam like Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.

"Ours is oldest operation theatre in the region and the only tea garden to have an OT in entire Barak Valley," says Dr Dutta.

India-born British doctor, Dr Ronald Ross, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902 for identifying the malaria parasite, spent one year studying the life-cycle of the anopheles mosquito that helped lay the foundation for the treatment of this life-threatening disease that infected 219 million and killed 660,000 in 2010, say World Health Organisation estimates.

"Ronald Ross came here to work at the invitation of the then chief medical officer Dr G G V Ramsay to study the lifecycle of P.vivax in the gut of anopheles mosquito. We have preserved his sketches and the microscope he used for his work but, unfortunately, written documents with his signature have been lost over time," says Dr RR Tarat, chief medical officer at the hospital.

A century ago, malaria was the leading illness, but now it has been replaced by other infections, such as tuberculosis and seasonal influenza.

"Since the hospital still has a running operation room, cholecsystectomy (surgical removal of gall bladder), appendectomy (removal of appendix), hysterectomy (removal of uterus), surgeries for hernia and hydrocele, ovarian and breast tumour, urinary bladder stone removal and PFR (pelvic floor repair) are routinely done free for tea-garden workers and for a nominal charge for outsiders," says Dr Dutta.

Mizo nods in agreement. He paid around 30,000 for his prostate and gall-bladder surgeries including medicine costs, which would have cost him 1 to 1.25 lakh and 80,000 to 1 lakh respectively at private hospitals in Delhi or Mumbai.