Saturday, March 1, 1997

Chloroform, Malaria And The Nizam

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad : 23

Chloroform, Malaria And The Nizam
by Narendra Luther

The Sixth Nizam was a popular ruler. There are numerous stories and legends about his indulgences and his nocturnal rounds of the city to find out what people felt and talked about him and his rule. He claimed power to cure people of snake-bites and people were free to call for his help at any time of the day or night. Even today you can find people at his grave in the Mecca Masjid offering him floral tributes because someone in the family has been cured of a snake-bite by invoking his name - `Mehboob Pasha ki duhai'.

Two unusual events occurred during his reign. Both related to the field of medicine and for one of them credit must go in a large measure to the interest taken by that otherwise merry ruler.One of them reveals a hitherto unknown aspect of his personality - a patron of the advancement of science.

The first concerned the use of chloroform as an aid to surgery. Chloroform was discovered in 1831 but was first used in 1847 by Dr.James Simpson in Edinburgh. While hailing its advent, the medical men of London expressed a caution that its use constituted a risk to the heart of the patient. The Edinburgh School, on the other hand, held that it was entirely safe for the heart and that the risk of its use was to respiration. If care was not taken of that aspect, it might cause a choking of the breath.

Surgeon Major Edward Lawrie of Indian Medical Service was appointed principal of the Hyderabad Medical School and Superintendent of Afzalgunj Hospital (now Osmania General Hospital) in 1885. He was also concurrently the chief medical officer of the British Residency and personal physician to the Nizam. He served in that capacity upto 1901 when he retired. About 40,000 operations were performed in the Afzalgunj Hospital under his supervision by using chloroform as a general anesthetic. Lawrie was a believer in the theory of Dr. Simpson and was keen to prove its correctness. He persuaded the Nizam to pay for a scientific investigation into the controversy regarding the safety of the use of Chloroform. A Commission was accordingly set up. It consisted of Lawrie and three of his colleagues. They conducted a number of experiments on dogs and they confirmed Simpson's theory.Lawrie publicized the results enthusiastically.

The `Lancet', the renowned journal of the British Medical Association, London, pulled up Lawrie for rushing to conclusion on inadequate evidence.

Thereupon, Lawrie, with the approval of the Nizam, announced that a second Commission would be set up and he invited the editor of the `Lancet' to nominate an expert of his choice to serve on the Commission. The Nizam gave a grant of 1,000 pounds sterling to meet the travel expenses of the expert. The expert was also made a guest of the government during his stay in Hyderabad. The `Lancet' nominated Dr. T.L.Brunton as its representative to serve on the Commission which comprised, besides the members of the first Commission, three new members, one of whom was an Indian, Dr.Rustomji Hakim. The Commission sat for three months and conducted, in all, 600 experiments on different animals.

Such was the keenness of the interest of the Nizam in the project that on 29th November 1889, he himself visited the Afzalgunj Hospital and witnessed the administration of chloroform to three different animals -- a goat, a horse and a monkey.

The second Commission confirmed the findings of the first Commission that it was the care of respiration and not of heart that was crucial in the administration of chloroform. These findings were published in the `Lancet' and, in its issue of 21st June 1890, its editor expressed the gratitude of the medical profession to Nizam Mehboob Ali Khan `for the opportunity of scientific progress which his unbounded liberality has afforded'.

Later, in 1894 Lawrie proceeded to London along with some of his distinguished students - Dr.M.G.Naidu who incidentally, was the husband of Mrs.Sarojini Naidu, the `Nightingale of India', Dr. Mohammed Abdul Ghani and Dr.S.Malanna. The last was the father of General Srinagesh who later rose to become a Chief of Army Staff of India. After his retirement he became Principal of the Administrative Staff College of India and Governor of Andhra Pradesh. This team proceeded to England on 25th May, 1894 when the Hyderabad Chloroform Technique was demonstrated in a London hospital.

Dr. Lawrie retired from service in 1901 and returned to England. He died there in 1915. Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan sanctioned a life pension of 200 pounds per month to his widow as a gesture of good will and gratitude towards the yeoman's service rendered by the late Dr.Edward Lawrie to the citizens of Hyderabad and to the family of the Nizam.

Malaria Virus
The other event was of far greater significance and the man responsible for that was a multi-faceted genius. He was a poet, a novelist, a musician, a mathematician -- and a reluctant man of medicine. And it was in that last field that he made his great discovery.

Dr. Ronald Ross also a member of the Indian Medical Service isolated the malaria virus and discovered the process of its transmission in 1897. Had a ramshackle laboratory in Begumpet. For this he was awarded a Nobel prize in 1902. We have dealt with his story in earlier instalment (November, 1996 issue).

Mehboob Ali Khan's period thus came to identified with two important steps in the march of man to control disease. Dr. A. Ramachari has done considerable research and work to bring these two cases to the notice of the public.

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