Plague, H1N1 & Covid-19: 103-year-old Naidu Hospital is Pune’s first line of defence in battle against contagious diseases
When the bubonic plague was wreaking havoc in Mumbai in the late 19th century, neighbouring Pune also suffered. Years, later, the British realised the need for a medical facility dedicated to combat contagious diseases, and in 1918, built a smaller ward, known today as the Dr Naidu Hospital.
The Naidu hospital has been at the forefront, in terms of treatment, in Pune’s war against Covid-19.
Even as the city has seen multiple super-specialty hospitals come up over the years, the Naidu hospital is first in line, and has been used as the primary healthcare centre to treat infectious diseases, from plague a century ago to H1N1 (Swine flu) and now Covid-19.
When Covid cases first surfaced in the city, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) chose to admit most patients to the Naidu hospital, where the staff is used to dealing with epidemics.
So much so, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the phone to Chhaya Jagtap, a nurse at the hospital and applauded the role the hospital and its staff played during the early days of pandemic last year.
“Like you, there are lakhs of nurses, paramedical staff, doctors, who like true “tapasvis”, are serving patients in various hospitals in the country right now. I would like to congratulate you. I am happy to have heard your experiences,” PM Modi had said then, during the conversation with Jagtap.
It was in 1918, that the British regime built the two wards at the Raja Bahadur mill road near Sangamwadi. The location chosen for the wards was deliberately kept outside the city, to keep patients suffering from contagious disease in isolation. As Pune grew over the years, the hospital is now in the heart of city, in a manner of speaking.
Started as an epidemic hospital to address the plague, the facility was later renamed after Dr Naidu, about who the civic body does not have any concrete information.
Dr Sanjeev Wavare, assistant medical officer, PMC and in charge of the infectious disease cell, said, “We don’t have an idea about Dr Naidu and his background, but it is said that he played an important role in fighting the plague in the British era. Considering his contribution, his name was given to this hospital.”
Dr Naidu, according to some, was said to be the head of the “Plague Prevention Committee” of the then Pune Sub-Municipal Council.
Dr Subhash Konkane, 70, who is an honorary consultant for Naidu hospital said, “ Naidu hospital is the key hospital in the city. For any infectious disease, the first important thing is to get admission for patients and keep them in isolation. All airborne diseases are dangerous and spread fast. For that we need to keep them in isolation. Naidu’s location is important.”
Konkane has been working with Naidu hospital since 1980 and regularly used to visit the hospital till the age of 65.
“We saw very critical epidemics. Not a single hospital gives admission to patients when there is outbreak of infectious disease. Though my age is 70 years, considering shortage of medical manpower, I treated Covid -19 patients in Naidu hospital for almost four months,” said Kokane.
The hospital played an important role during the 2010 swine flu outbreak too. All the first cases in all epidemics are admitted to Naidu hospital.
In every such epidemic, Naidu’s hospital’s service has been appreciated by citizens.
Sanjay Pardeshi who used to wash clothes at Naidu hospital said, “Traditionally our three generations are associated with this hospital. My grandfather, father and now our generation are carrying out laundry work in this hospital. Earlier, there was only a ground floor and a few quarters. We have played games on the premises from childhood. As we saw the various epidemics from childhood, we did not have any fear about it. This hospital is like a family member for us.”
While it had only two wards initially, Dr Naidu hospital’s capacity gradually increased with every pandemic.
Earlier, there were barracks on the ground floor. The bed capacity was 50 patients, but during every epidemic, the bed capacity increased.
Later, PMC converted this hospital into a multi-storey building in 2014. There are various departments in Naidu hospital
Shripad Deshpande who is 69-years-old and worked as part of the nursing staff in the hospital said, “I worked with the Naidu hospital for 11 years as a nursing assistant. We treated many patients. At that time there were no gloves or masks. I really enjoyed the service at Naidu hospital. It’s the need of the hour to have such hospitals in the city. It is true that we don’t know much history, but it was established by Britishers for the treatment of plague patients.”
In 2020, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) decided to build a medical college to be named after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the premises of the Naidu hospital.
“It is good that we are erecting a medical college, but while doing it, we must ensure that there will be infectious disease hospitals and wards on the premises,” said local corporator Arvind Shinde.
In May 2020, the PMC staff stumbled upon 200 new beds lying unused inside a godown at the hospital. The beds are now being used by the hospital.
“I spent my whole childhood in Pune station and the Naidu hospital area. We have seen that snake bite, dog bite and AIDS patients visit this hospital. Sometimes there were no vacancies and patients used to take treatment under the tree in this hospital. Even the government-run Sassoon Hospital used to refer their patients to this hospital,” said Shinde.