Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine

Last week in Kolkata I vaguely recalled reading about a school of tropical medicine somewhere in the city. Scouring around one afternoon, I found a majestic old building attached to the Calcutta Medical College. The Calcultta School of Tropical Medicine was started by Sir Leonard Rogers, one of the founders of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine who made important contributions in kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis) and cholera research in the Bengal. In its heyday the school was one of the few key centers for such research in the world.

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The close link between colonial industries and tropical diseases is apparent in this plaque dedicating research laboratories. The last scholarship for filariasis is even funded by a local Maharajah (king).

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They have two dusty museums (I would not be surprised if I was the first visitor in months). One is maintained by the pathology department with a great set of clinical photographs, anatomical specimens ranging from enlarged spleens, amebic abscess ridden livers, and data on conditions from former times like black water fever (ie. intense hematuria precipitated by malaria infection in someone undertaking quinine prophylaxis).

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The other museum in the department of helminthology is filled with jars of worms, flukes, and other parasites. Below is a photo of Dracunculus medinensis (better known as guinea worm) which has not plagued India since its elimination in 1996. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in just a generation given that my mother remembers hearing about guinea worm in her childhood.

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The school is unfortunately a pale shadow of its former self. While it still has some great faculty who conduct tropical disease research when they can,  inclusion of the school into the general health services precipitated its decline. The pressing healthcare needs of the population the school serves and a large number of staff vacancies overwhelm the remaining staff with clinical duties. It is a story well-known in research institutions the world over.

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7 Responses to “Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine”


  1. 1 CJ July 5, 2009 at 5:33 am

    Thank you for your malaria blog.

    Hematuria in your article is not correct:
    “black water fever (ie. intense hematuria precipitated by malaria infection in someone undertaking quinine prophylaxsis).”

    It should be hemaglobinuria.

    Black-water fever is most often associated with the use of antimalarial medication, especially quinine, but in this patient, dark urine developed before quinine therapy, making this diagnosis less likely.(“Hemoglobinuria with Malaria” by Martin Tombe, M.D. Mpilo Central Hospital
    Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, published in NEJM.)

    I myself vitnessed scores of hemaglobinuria with malaria; none of them took quine.

  2. 3 Sam December 8, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    is it a research facility and a museum?

    • 4 naman December 8, 2009 at 6:55 pm

      Sam, it’s essentially an academic medical center – they provide clinical services, medical education, and conduct research. They maintain these two small museums in line with their teaching goal.

  3. 5 ?????? ??????? December 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Black-water fever is most often associated with the use of antimalarial medication, especially quinine, but in this patient, dark urine developed before quinine therapy, making this diagnosis less likely.

  4. 6 DR.G.S. Jana March 19, 2010 at 5:17 am

    Dr Amitabha Nandi started malpractice at school of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta at the time he hold the post of Head of the Malaria Department but the STM director have not taken any action against him. This is the present situation of STM.

  5. 7 Dr. Allison Clough April 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Blackwater fever is caused by rapid breakdown of the blood cells by massive infection by malaria parasites. Even in milder infection, some hemoglobinuria develops just because of the rupture of blood cells. In blackwater fever, the breakdown is so heavy that the urine turns black, kidney failure develops and death soon follows. It is almost always a complication of falciparum malaria.


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