Science meets service: Gandhi looking at malaria parasites

(image credit: gandhiserve.org)

What a stirring image! It’s one of my favorite photographs and depicts the potential of science to serve. The Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences a medical university in Maharashtra, India devoted to rural health aptly adopted the image in its logo. The image was taken in 1940 in front of the Sevagram ashram’s guest house, which Bapu later coverted into a 15 bed hospital, and is now part of the institute.

While many captions indicate Gandhiji was observing Mycobacterium leprae, the university suggests the slide contained Plasmodia:

There have been many conjectures about what Gandhiji was looking at in the microscope. Since his intrest in leprosy was well known, it was assumed that he was looking at Mycobacterium leprae. However, Dr KV Desikan, a leprologist of international standing, differs. He says that Shri Prabhakarji, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Sushila Nayar, had told him that Gandhiji was looking at malarial parasites. Prabhakarji has also told him that Gandhiji himself had malaria and had been treated by Dr BC Roy. What he did not know, however, was whether, in the picture, Gandhiji was examining a smear of his own blood. Dr Desikan feels that since Prabhakarji had lived and worked with the doctors during the very inception of the institute, his words would be authentic.

 

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