Dr Dilip Mahalonabis and ORS

Dr Deepankshu Shekhar Mandal, Professor of Physiology

During the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War lakhs of destitute were displaced to refugee camps and Cholera was killing them off in huge numbers. The only treatment, Saline solution infusion was difficult to get and also very difficult to be injected into the bloodstream by an untrained person. The then young Dr Dilip Mahalonabis and his selfless team urgently prepared a solution of readily available sugar, salt & baking soda*. On drinking this elixir, the moribund patients were magically immediately relieved and the subsequently use of this therapy has saved crores of lives worldwide till date. This experimental discovery was hailed by the prestigious medical journal Lancet as “the most important medical discovery of the 20th century”.

Dr Dilip Mahalonabis was born on 12th of November 1934 (Kishoregunj, now Bangladesh), he completed his MBBS from Calcutta Medical College and qualified as a Paediatrician from England. He joined the International Center of Johns Hopkins University at the Beleghata Infectious Disease Hospital, Kolkata in 1964 and initiated research on Oral Rehydration Therapy with the participants being the cholera patients treated there. Later, after his monumental victory over the cholera epidemic of 1971, Dr Mahalonabis was associated with the World Health Organization’s Diarrhoeal Disease Control programme. He also had a stint as the Director of Clinical Science at the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh. He was hugely clinically invested in the Institute of Child Health, Park Circus Kolkata and contributed his life’s savings there. Dr Dilip Mahalonabis in 1991 founded the ‘Society for Applied Studies’ to inculcate field working and hands-on research.

Recipient of numerous notable accolades, he was also awarded in 2002 the Pollin prize, considered the apex award in Paediatrics by Columbia University
Dr Mahalonabis, aged 87, passed away on the 16th of October 2022 in Kolkata. His timely and brave scientific contribution during a dark humanitarian crisis must be honoured in our deeds and memories for eternity. This composition was an improvisation borne out of a logistically nightmarish emergency but after tireless research and much refinement by Dr Mahalonabis and others, we have today’s lifesaving ORS, and it has glucose (sugar), sodium chloride (salt), Potassium chloride and Trisodium citrate.

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