“India has taken a lead in providing vaccinations to the world, but there is a need for building an institute for vaccine research,” said Dr.Soumya Swaminathan, former Chief Scientist with WHO, at a lecture presentation on the topic ‘Vaccines for the world’, at the Voluntary Health Services (VHS), Taramani. The presentation was part of the Dr.K.S.Ranganathan Memorial Lecture, held on the occasion of the World Blood Donor Day (June 14).
Pointing out at the disparity of vaccine availability in the world, Dr.Soumya stated, “Despite prevalence of many viruses in African nations, any disease gets prominence only when richer countries like Europe or USA, get infected. Also, the richer countries have better access to vaccines than the poorer nations,” She highlighted similar issues in our country as well, where the rich have better access to vaccines than the poor. “There are still many people, especially the children, who are not vaccinated for COVID.” Such issues warrant the need for a vaccination research centre, which will not only focus on the science and technology of vaccination, but also issues like immunology and vaccine management, she added.
Dr.Naveen Kumar Gupta, Director – BCG Vaccine Laboratories, Guindy, was the chief guest at the event. Dr.Naveen gave a glimpse of the importance of BCG vaccine lab and briefed on the changes to be made to conform with international standards. “Till the year 2000, we were the major suppliers of vaccines to the world. Now with upgraded techniques, we are among the 70 vaccine labs in the world,” said Dr.Naveen and added that the institute was going to set up another lab in Tambaram, “to serve the world for the next 25 years.”
Dr.V.Mythily, Director-VHS Blood Centre, spoke about Dr.K.S.Ranganathan and his contribution in setting up the first blood bank in the city at Kings hospital and subsequently founding the blood bank at VHS. “Thanks to his vision, VHS is now catering to nearly 200 patients requiring blood transfusions, each week, and is a leading blood bank in the city,” she said.
R.Rajagopal, Managing Trustee of VHS said that nearly 30% of blood is given free of cost to patients, by the VHS Blood Bank.
This memorial lecture was instituted by G.P.Ramachandran, a resident of Sastri Nagar, in memory of Dr.K.S.Ranganathan, the Founder of VHS Blood Bank, who is also the grandfather of Ramachandran’s late wife, Dr.Hema Ramachandran.
Our neighbourhood physicist
Dr.Hema Ramachandran, a resident of Gandhi Nagar, was a renowned physicist who was a recipient of the Homi Bhabha Award in 1984. She had also received the INSA Young Scientist award in 1992. She chaired high-profile government committees such as the Programme Advisory Committees (PAC of DST) and the BRICS Working Groups. She coordinated the QUEST (Quantum Enabled Science and Technology) programme. On Apr.19, this year, the QUEST programme was approved by the Union cabinet under the National Quantum Mission (NQM) at a total cost of Rs.6003.65 crore. The mission aimed to seed, nurture and scale up scientific and industrial R&D and create a vibrant and innovative ecosystem in Quantum Technology (QT).
The last few years of her life saw Dr.Hema put up a massive struggle against cancer and its after-effects, before she succumbed to it at the age of 58 years, in November 2020.
In her memory, G.P.Ramachandran, her husband, instituted:
- Dr.K.S.Ranganathan Memorial Lecture (in the name of Dr.Hema’s grandfather).
- Endowment titled ‘Hema Ramachandran fellowship for Women Scientists’ at M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The fellowship is aimed at improving gender equality in scientific research.
- Donations to the Cancer Institute (WIA), Adyar.
Dr.K.S.Ranganathan, former adviser on blood transfusion to the Director General of Health Services, Government of India is the Founder of VHS Blood Bank. He had trained at the State Serum Research Institute, Denmark and also at the Louis Pasteur Institute, France. He has trained with stalwarts like Nobel prize winner Karl Landsteiner.
Dr.Ranganathan founded the 1st BCG Freeze Dried Vaccine Manufacturing Unit and became the first Director of the BCG Vaccine Laboratory, Guindy, in 1948. He introduced the blood bank manual techniques and sterilisation procedures.
At the time it was founded, VHS Blood Bank was the first and only blood centre in Chennai doing Coomb’s test for Rh negative confirmation and Rh antibody detection and thus all patients were referred here, including patients from government hospitals.
Dr.Ranganathan’s book on Blood Grouping and Clinical applications was published with a highly commendatory foreword by Dr.Alexander S.Wiener, the discoverer of Rh factor (1937). This book was considered as the Bible by the junior doctors of Dr.Ranganathan.
World Blood Donor Day
The World Blood Donor Day is celebrated on June 14, to raise awareness on the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood. It was first celebrated in 2004 by four organisations: World Health Organization (WHO), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations (IFBDO) and International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT).
It is celebrated on the birthday anniversary of Karl Landsteiner. Karl was an Austrian-born American biologist, physician, and immunologist. He had distinguished the main blood groups in 1900, having developed the modern system of classification of blood groups. In 1937, with Alexander S. Wiener, he identified the Rhesus factor, thus enabling physicians to transfuse blood without endangering the patient’s life. With Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper, he discovered the polio virus in 1909. In 1930, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.