Just 500 metres from the Taj Mahal, there's another monument of love in this city that very few people know about - one that has changed the life of many a leprosy patient in India.
The Japanese-founded Jalma Centre for Leprosy Treatment, being run by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has completed more than four decades of service, treating hundreds of thousands of leprosy affected who are traditionally ostracised in India.
It's a great success story scripted here, just as important as the eradication of small pox, says Jalma director Vishwa Mohan Katoch.
"Since 1982, we have been working on leprosy control and today we have successfully contained the disease to almost 97 percent," Katoch told IANS in an interview.
"The total number of leprosy cases in the country had sharply declined. People now come early for treatment and respond well to the drugs and disease management programmes. And since they come early there are no longer any deformities as was the case earlier.
"The stigma attached to leprosy has largely gone and the rehabilitation is easier. Within two to three months even the patches on the skin disappear because the treatment is so effective," said Katoch.
In 2005, India claimed it had achieved the leprosy elimination level. As per the health ministry, there were 97,918 leprosy affected in the country at the end of 2007.
As a public health programme, the success of leprosy eradication is a fulfilment of Mahatma Gandhi's dream, Katoch said with a sense of pride. The incidence in India has come down to just 0.6 per 10,000, a tremendous achievement.
"Till Jalma began work here, the problem was gigantic, people were ostracised, confined to isolated clusters and not allowed to mix around. We used to get as high as 60,000 patients a year. Now we treat and diagnose around 30,000 of which most are safe, not afflicted with the disease.
"Because of the high credibility and the image of this institution which continues to nurture the original Japanese culture of selfless service and devotion, people from all over North India come to us to be sure that they do not have the symptoms of the disease," Katoch said.
With just one shot of medicine, 99 percent of leprosy bacteria is finished, but there are pockets in the country where it is still transmitted and we are investigating this area of concern, he added.
Katoch said the Japanese who originally funded the centre at the request of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru left behind a legacy and culture "that we continue to nurture and promote".
The Jalma leprosy centre, now under the ICMR and funded totally by the central ministry of health, is doing pioneering work in tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS management, apart from leprosy control .
Nehru laid the foundation stone of the Jalma centre near the Taj Mahal in December 1963. Till 1976, Japanese doctors ran the hospital and thereafter the ICMR took over and developed it as a key centre of research.
The Jalma today is one of the most modern, hi-tech research centres focusing on leprosy and TB. It has successfully developed new generation immunological and molecular diagnostic tools and methods, evolved the mapping of TB through DNA printing which can deliver a test report in just one day as against up to two weeks earlier.
The Jalma centre has built a formidable reputation through research and investigation in several critical areas like AIDS, drug metabolism, drug resistance and leprosy.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at email@example.com )