CHENNAI: Located on the Coromandel coast, just off the Bay of Bengal, is Madras, now Chennai, the sixth most populous Indian city. While the city's numerous monuments, unarguably of immense cultural and historical importance has time and again drawn the world's attention, the fact that this was also the land of many revolutionary firsts , remains one of the least discussed aspects of the city's history to date.
The Rajiv Gandhi Government General hospital (RGGGH), fondly referred to as the Government General Hospital (GH) is one such institution, which pioneered the cause of women's education, at a time when even countries like the UK, prohibited their women from studying. Not only is the RGGGH the first medical institution in the world to admit women, but it also holds the reputation for producing the first woman physician and gynecologist in the world, Mary Anne Scharlieb.
As Sriram.V, a famed historian, notes, “ This is one of those institutions whose comprehensive history probably needs several books.” Originally named 'The Generals' hospital', RGGGH was founded in 1664 at the present Fort St George, as a rather small combat casualty centre to exclusively treat wounded soldiers of the English East India Company. “It was shifted to its present location in 1772 and is believed to have opened to the public much later. The Madras Medical College (the name was christened in 1850) was formally annexed to the institution in 1835 and began accepting Indian students in 1842. The MCC today is the second oldest medical institution in the country, next only to the Kolkata Medical College and Hospital”, explains Dr Jayanthi, Dean, Madras Medical College. The hospital recently celebrated its 355th founding anniversary on November 16.
Delving further into the ancient institution's background, Sriram says, “The hospital building was constructed at this site by John Sullivan at 42,000 pagodas (a unit of currency, made of gold or half-gold minted coins) and was formally open to patients from October 5, 1772.” The hospital underwent numerous renovations subsequently - in 1859, 1893 and 1928 and finally in 2002.” Over the years, the hospital grew, acquiring its neurology, cardiology and other specialty blocks from the 1960s onwards. The most major reconstruction to date was in 2002 when the two main blocks were pulled down to make way for the modern building seen today. It was only in 1842 that the facility, became open to Indians and the hospital became a whole civilian institution in 1899,” he recalls.
Apart from this, Col C. Donovan discovered the organism that caused kala-azar, a fatal parasitic disease caused by sandflies here at the GH in 1903. “By the time the news was transmitted to England, the organism had also been identified by Dr Leishman, leading to Donovan having to share the honors. The bacteria was, therefore, named Leishman Donovan,” reveals Sriram.
The history of the GH would be incomplete without mentioning the contribution of Dr Edward Balfour, a visionary ahead of his time who in a historic move, opened the gates of
MMC to women in 1875. It was due to his efforts that Mary Scharlieb, the world's first woman gynecologist and physician obtained her Licentiate in Medicine & Surgery (LM&S) from the college three years later.
Within a few years of its founding, the hospital also went on to become a harbinger of countless achievements in the world of medicine, in a way shaping and revolutionizing the medical scene in India and the world at that time....