Thursday, 19 June 2008

Do you want to be in my gang?

The King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Guindy undertook a variety of medical work and its annual reports have just been microfilmed. Through checking the films this week I have been re-acquainted with one of my favourite institutions.
This is because the reports give a lively and vivid snapshot of life at the institute between 1906 and 1932, not to mention that prominent figures in the medical field worked there.
The Bacteriological Section produced vaccines, including prophylactic cholera and combined typhoid and paratyphoid (T.A.B.) vaccines, anti-meningococcus vaccine and anti-influenza vaccines, the numbers produced appearing in these reports. Investigation units were engaged in the field and reported on outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, relapsing fever, gastro-enteritis, glandular fever, malaria and chicken pox in both settlements and jails.
It was in the 1922-23 report from Alipuram Jail, Bellary, that I came across the term “bowel gang.” 1,250 men were found to be suffering from latent dysentery: “These men were constituted into a “Bowel gang” housed separately; dieted and treated for their conditions. They were given suitable work in their own enclosure, and were not allowed to mix with the rest of the convicts.” (page 31, click on the image to view the paragraph from the report) This system seemed to work and cases of dysentery were reduced within 3 months, although I shudder to think of the indignity of being a member of such a gang. I wonder, also, if the members knew of the designation that was given to them to aid medical research and disease control.
The King Institute of Preventive Medicine is still in operation. Visit its website at

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