How another pandemic gave birth to Karnataka's health services

Covid has altered life around the world, and the three-week crash, despite being necessary, has created a set of problems of its own. There is an aura of fear and paranoia in the atmosphere. But then, pandemics are not new to India. It's just that advances in technology and hygiene have made us forget them.

It was August 11, 1898, and a train of people entered the Bangalore cantonment from Bombay through Hubli. A crazy railroad superintendent, followed by his butler, disembarked at the station. The railways underwent a physical examination since the illness had spread to the Bombay presidency at the time, and a police officer would escort the passenger to his home to determine his residence and had to present himself to checks for 10 consecutive days . Similarly, railway staff noticed that the butler was showing symptoms of the epidemic. He goes down in history as the first patient in Bangalore when he was confirmed with plague the next day and died on August 15, 1898.

PR Cadell's British official report on the plague outbreak in Bangalore 1898-99 records this incident, but also points to a train with grain stopped at the Bangalore city station at the same time. Authorities quarantined the cargo workers, 22 of them, in the good shed area (later Godownpet) to contain the disease. The approach seemed successful until September 9. After that, the plague got out of control and quickly spread to the Cottonpet and Akkipet areas. The 1998 geographical dictionary recorded the rapid increase in mortality in Bangalore since September 19 as 105 deaths per week. In October, 1,393 plague attacks were recorded and 2,807 died in the Pete area alone. That December, the cantonment had 1,547 casualties.

Dozen rats, three annas

The Bangalore administration's annual report of 1898-99 had registered the government allocating Rs 2.45,790 as a Plague Fund to control the epidemic and a Plague Commission was appointed. The municipality bought 22 cars with 22 pairs of oxen for 2,565 rupees and handed them over to new street sweepers to remove the bodies from drains, garbage cans and even public toilets.

The Commission began to oversee pest control and observation through special camps established on Magadi Road, then on the outskirts of the city. Celebrations and festivals canceled, Yeswantpur railway station became a medical inspection site for people entering the city. People with mild plague symptoms were quarantined in 588 sheds over a 10-day period with mandatory segregation. Flyers and notices were distributed to spread awareness and explain the symptoms of the epidemic in bullock carts. Drains were cleaned, 18,438 houses were disinfected, 651 houses were demolished, and 36,259 people were inoculated as pest prevention.

Municipal authorities offered six annas for a dozen dead bandicoots, three annas for a dozen rats, and two annas for a dozen mice, in an effort to reduce the population of rodents, believed to be vectors of pests. The reward remained in force until 1911.

Basavanagudi Birth, Malleswaram

In 1896 as part of a city expansion plan, the plots for sale were divided into Basavanagudi and Malleswaram by local authorities. But there were almost no takers. The plague epidemic in Bangalore dramatically changed that with the people who stayed in the city during the spread who moved to the two areas and set up tents to escape the outbreak.

“People were desperate for good and spacious living conditions, fresh water and wider roads than ever before after witnessing the rampant spread of the plague in narrow areas of Petta. Thereafter, the Basavanagudi and Malleswaram areas that were mostly open land were occupied by people who later led to the development of the towns, ”said Suresh Moona, a historian and columnist for the city.

Padmanabhan Palpu, a famous Kerala doctor and bacteriologist, was released as the first health officer with a monthly salary of Rs 400 during the plague outbreak. He played a key role in containing the spread in Bangalore. The Mysore Maharaja later congratulated Palpu on his hard service to the state and was instrumental in establishing the Victoria Hospital here.