PADMASHRI DR. RAMASWAMY GANAPATI
6th July 1930 – 13th Nov 2011
It is with deep regret that we write the obituary of a personal friend, a Professional associate and a Fellow worker. Dr Ramaswamy Ganapati passed away peacefully on 13th November 2011.
He was a keen observer, an expert clinician, a committed scientist and above all, a kind and loving doctor. Born in a middle class family in the southern most part of India, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu on 6 July, 1930, he completed his medical education in Madras. Dr R Ganapati started his career by establishing a Primary Health centre in Valathi in South Arcot district in Tamil Nadu. During this period he had the privilege of having first informal lessons in leprosy from Dr K Ramanujam whom he used to visit often.
During this period Dr Ganapati came in touch with leprosy patients attending the PHC, many of them highly deformed, as South Arcot was endemic for leprosy. Though he used to recall the lessons from Dr Ramanujam, he was helpless to be of help to the patients, as his knowledge about leprosy was rudimentary and did not extend beyond the fact that the only treatment of leprosy was low doses of DDS. For a city bred youth equipped with knowledge about sophisticated approaches to investigative and therapeutic procedures, village life, besides being hard was professionally unsatisfying.
It was at this stage Dr C Gopalan at that time Deputy Director of Nutrition Research Laboratories in Conooor lured him to enter the field of nutrition research. As an Asst Research Officer, ICMR holding independent charge of field investigations on protein malnutrition in preschool children in villages around Trichur, Kerala and Poonamally in Madras state and published a paper. Later on as the laboratories shifted to Hyderabad, he realized that he was not the kind of person to handle test-tubes. Toying with the idea of Paediatrics as a career, he moved to Bombay. While in Paediatrics, he got involved in Tuberculosis and worked at the Sarvodaya Hospital and Municipal Sewree TB Hospital Mumbai in 1960-1962. He could have stuck to TB under Bombay Municipal Corporation, but found that the chemotherapy practiced in the hospitals was highly unscientific and there was no scope for any research.
Later he joined Acworth Leprosy Hospital (ALH) as Assistant Medical Officer where he had the opportunity to see lots of patients, something like 300 old patients and 50 new cases daily and learning clinical aspects of leprosy from an eminent teacher, Dr N Figueredo This coupled with an emotional satisfaction of serving in a neglected medico-social field created a lasting impact and proved to be a turning point in his career. The opportunity of doing clinical research in leprosy emerged when he was appointed as the Research Officer. The post of Research Officer and the experience he gained were most crucial in determining his future contributions in leprosy.
The injustice perpetrated against the patients and the staff in the very hospital in an environment of leprophobia left a deep imprint on his life, which propelled him to establish much later an independent NGO. Dr Dongre and Dr Ganapati made a conscious act of doing away with the gloves which created quite a furore.
While at ALH his vibrant enthusiasm and his commitment to work inspired his colleagues and associates to form an activist group from amongst the staff who joined the rebellion against injustice and thus an NGO by name Acworth Leprosy Hospital Society for Research, Rehabilitation and Education in Leprosy (ALH-RRE Society) was registered.
Dr Ganapati had the privilege of being the Founder-Secretary and thus working as a part of an NGO, he could make far more significant research contributions than as a Research Officer of ALH. Among the notable field based investigations by RRE Society were (1) those concerning childhood leprosy, arising out of unprecedented massive school surveys and (2) slum surveys which could be undertaken for the first time in Bombay leading to an understanding of the transmission and urban epidemiology.
It was an extremely uncomfortable and restless seven year service in leprosy (1963 to1970) that he had to put up with in ALH. In 1970-71 he had the opportunity to go to Chingleput and worked under Dr Desikan at his own cost. No scholarship taken.
After gaining extensive clinical, laboratory and field expertise he established a research oriented field project called Bombay Leprosy Project (BLP) in the year 1976 which enabled him to carry out pioneering work which has given the necessary expertise today not only for planning leprosy field programmes in a most rational and cost-effective manner but also has led to a better understanding of the transmission and causation of leprosy. The high scientific quality of multidrug therapy programme which is practiced today was the outcome of meticulous research trials carried out by Dr Ganapati.
His stature in the medical fraternity enabled him to start leprosy treatment service of high quality in medical institutions particularly teaching hospitals. He assisted the Government of India in his capacity as the member of National Leprosy Eradication Commission, the highest policy making statutory body as well as Maharashtra Government as a member of State Leprosy Council and Chairman of the State Rehabilitation Committee. He functioned as consultant to Govt. of India / WHO for assessment of training of centres in 1986-87 and for MDT Districts from 1987 to 1998. He was a member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel from 1991 to 2000.
Dr Ganapati’s specialization was one of integrated approach in the management of leprosy programme which broke the barrier of stigma attached to the disease to a very significant extent and also resulted in reduction of management cost of leprosy control programmes. Taking advantage of his membership in the governing bodies of several leading institutions engaged in rehabilitation of the handicapped in general, he was instrumental in making these institutions accept leprosy patients along with other handicapped without hesitation.
Efforts of Dr Ganapati created a perceptible impact by reaching intended benefits to a large group of leprosy sufferers as well as the community at large either directly by his own efforts, or indirectly through various national and international structures seeking his advice, guidance and direction.
He published over 300 scientific papers some of which represent outstanding landmarks on various aspects of leprosy. A recent analysis of publications by scientists in leprosy journals (1950-2007) carried out by independent experts revealed that Dr Ganapati was in the company of seven distinguished Indian authors who have to their credit more than 120 papers indexed in “Medline” (Leprosy Review,79,387-400.2008).
As Director Emeritus BLP, he was engaged in preventing disabilities in leprosy patients living in deprived rural terrains of Maharashtra through a unique research oriented field project called “Leprosy Patients Relief Fund” (LPRF). This community based scheme aimed to create a cost-effective model by engaging rural volunteers for door to door service as a precursor of the so-called “Community Based Rehabilitation”.
President of India honoured Dr. Ganapati by conferring the National Award of PADMASHRI in the year 1983. The highest scientific honour of the country for exemplary research work in leprosy namely, JALMA Trust Fund oration Award was conferred on him by the Indian Council of Medical Research in 1986.
The loss of Dr R Ganapati is deeply felt by all leprosy workers who knew him and all leprosy patients who were benefitted by him.