Dr Dilip Mahalanabis passes away

The physician, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis, who pioneered the famous Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), recently passed away at the age of 87 because of a lung infection and other age-related ailments.

Key facts

  • Dr Dilip Mahalanabis was born on November 12, 1934, in West Bengal. He joined the Johns Hopkins University International Centre for Medical Research and Training in Kolkata in the 1960s, where he conducted research in oral rehydration therapy.
  • Dehydration is the main cause of death in infants and young children suffering from diarrhoeal diseases like cholera.
  • Oral Rehydration Solution – a combination of water, glucose, and salts – plays a major role in the prevention of such deaths.
  • It was discovered by Dr. Mahalanabis while he was working in overflowing refugee camps during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
  • With the increasing cases of cholera and diarrhea in the refugee camps, the stocks of intravenous fluids were depleting fast and there wasn’t sufficient trained personnel to administer the IV treatment.
  • Dr. Mahalanabis found that sugar and salt solution can increase the water absorption capacity of the body, preventing dehydration from taking place.
  • This solution has helped bring down the fatality rate in Dr. Mahalanabis’s camp to 3 per cent, compared to 20-30 per cent in camps that used only intravenous fluids.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the ORS as the standard method for treating diarrhoeal diseases. Presently, the ORS formula the WHO recommends a combination of sodium chloride, anhydrous glucose, potassium chloride, and Trisodium citrate dihydrate.
  • In 2002, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis and Dr. Nathaniel F Pierce received the Pollin Prize (equivalent to the Nobel in pediatrics) from Columbia University.
  • The ORS is cost-effective and can even be administered by untrained people to keep dehydration in check until the patient is hospitalized. 
  • The Indian Government popularized the guidelines on preparing and using ORS available in powder form at health centers and chemists.

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