Agra: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sentiments of emotional bonding between Japanese and Indians has found echo in Agra where, close to the Taj Mahal, another monument of love that came up with Japanese support continues to serve the lowliest, the socially-ostracised victims of leprosy.
JALMA, the Japanese-founded centre for leprosy treatment, has completed more than four decades of service, treating thousands of lepers, and has through research and investigations succeeded in bringing down the incidence of the debilitating disease.
Now run by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), it stands as a monument to love between the two countries.
The total number of leprosy cases in the country has declined. People come early for treatment and respond well to the drugs and disease-management programme. But the chief area of concern remains the rate of transmission reflected through the number of new cases, which should eventually fall.
India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, inaugurated the centre in December 1963. Japanese doctors ran the hospital till 1976, when ICMR took it over and developed it as a key research centre.
Today, it is one of the most modern, hi-tech research centres focussing on leprosy and TB. It has successfully developed new generation immunological and molecular diagnostic tools and methods and evolved the mapping of TB through DNA printing which can deliver a test report in just one day against up to two weeks earlier.
The centre has built a formidable reputation through research and investigations in several critical areas like AIDS, drug metabolism, drug resistance and leprosy, to name just a few. The results would help contain the incidence of leprosy and other dreadful diseases. The institute has a major thrust on leprosy (40 percent), tuberculosis and other mycobacteriosis (40 percent), HIV (10 percent) and filariasis (10 percent).
Under ICMR, the scientists of the institute have continued to contribute on almost all aspects of leprosy, several cutting edge areas of tuberculosis (DNA fingerprinting methods, drug resistance) and selected areas of HIV-AIDS and have now made forays into related problems like filariasis.
It was Japan’s Dr. Matsuki Miyazaki, born on January 10, 1901, who had seen the devastatation and hardships that followed World War-II, who gifted the project to India after he decided to serve humanity and set up base in Agra. The road near the Taj Mahal bears his name thanks to the efforts of a former corporator Mohan Lal Arora.
However, the founding of the JALMA centre was not without controversy. Former union minister M.C. Chagla’s autobiography “Roses in December” tells us how he failed to persuade then prime minister Nehru against inaugurating the centre as Muslim fundamentalists were aghast at the siting of the leprosarium close to the Taj Mahal. Chagla’s efforts to persuade the then Japanese ambassador failed and a compromise was worked out. Instead of a leprasarium, the facility was named a research centre.