Dilip Mahalanabis (1934-2022) was an Indian paediatrician, scientist, and public health specialist. He is known for creating oral rehydration solution (ORS) to cure Diarrhea. In 2022, he died at the age of 87 after suffering from a lung infection.
Dilip Mahalanabis was born on Monday, 12 November 1934 (age 87 years; at the time of death) in Kishoreganj, Bengal Province, British India (now Dhaka Division, Bangladesh). His zodiac sign is Scorpio. In 1958, he completed his graduation as a paediatrician at the Calcutta Medical College in Kolkata. He did a Diploma in Child Health (DCH) at the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Later, he earned a Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom (MRCP(UK)), which is a post-graduate medical diploma in the UK. He made history by becoming the first Indian to be appointed as the registrar of London’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Height (approx.): 5′ 8″
Hair Colour: Salt & Pepper
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
There is not much information about his parents and siblings.
He was married to Jayanti Mahalanabis, who died on 9 July 2021.
Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT)
During the 1960s, he worked at the Johns Hopkins University International Centre for Medical Research and Training in Kolkata, focusing his research efforts on oral rehydration therapy. During the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, a significant refugee crisis emerged, with many refugees seeking shelter in India. Cholera became a major cause of death among these refugees, with a high case fatality rate (CFR) of 30%. To assist the government and non-governmental organizations in addressing this crisis, the JH-CMRT sent its professional and paramedical staff to the refugee camps. Dilip Mahalanabis and his team operated along the border of India and East Pakistan, establishing their treatment centre in Bongaon to provide essential medical care. Mahalanabis and his team believed, based on the research available at that time, that oral rehydration therapy alone could effectively prevent fatal dehydration in the early stages of cholera infection. He made an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which consisted of 22g glucose, 3.5g sodium chloride, and 2.5g sodium hydrogen carbonate per litre of water and was served to patients in cups. Over 8 weeks, they treated 3700 patients, and only 135 died (a 3.6% fatality rate), a significant drop from the earlier 30% rate. In a separate tent, the rate was even lower at 1%. At that time, Dr Dhiman Barua, the head of the bacterial diseases unit of the WHO, supported his treatment at WHO and UNICEF after visiting Dilip at his camp in Bongaon; however, other scientists were sceptical about his discovery. Journals rejected his paper, taking 7 more years for ORT (Oral Rehydration Therapy) acceptance. He did not patent his ORS formula.
From 1975 to 1979, he served in WHO’s cholera unit in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Yemen. In the 1980s, he helped the WHO by giving advice about bacterial diseases. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was appointed as a medical officer in the Diarrheal Disease Control Programme of the WHO. In 1990, he became a clinical research officer at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR, B), Bangladesh. Later, he was promoted to the Director of Clinical Research at ICDDR. In 2004, he and Dr. Nathaniel Pierce were collaborating on a better version of ORS. This improved version aimed to be more effective in preventing dehydration caused by various types of diarrhoea. It also had the potential to reduce the amount of stool produced.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- 1994: Elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
- 2002: The first Pollin Prize in Pediatric Research
- 2006: Prince Mahidol Prize
- 2023: Padma Vibhushan (posthumous)
On 16 October 2022, he died after suffering from a lung infection and other age-related ailments at a private hospital in Kolkata, West Bengal.
- He is considered the father of ORS.
- In August 2017, he donated his life savings of Rs 1 crore to the Institute of Child Health in Kolkata.
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