Adventures in Public Health Part 1: Destination, India!

Posted on by Dr. Christopher J. Portier
Photo of a section of Mumbai, India
Photo Credit: Dr. Chris Portier


After an arduous 24-hour journey, I arrived in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India on August 21, 2011 at 10 pm to discuss ongoing and planned collaborations with multiple Indian government agencies on environmental health issues.  The ride from the airport to the hotel was only a few kilometers, but we went down back alleys and when we got to the hotel, there was serious security with a search of the car and x-ray machines.

Technology for Improving Medical Records Access

Monday morning saw us leaving rather early and driving through impressive morning traffic to visit Dr. Rohini Chowgule, Director of the Indian Institute of Environmental Medicine and a Professor of Internal Medicine.  We met at the British era Willingdon Club, right in the heart of the city.  The drive took us along the Arabian Sea and we had spectacular rainy views of the high rises that make up Mumbai.  The discussions centered on ongoing collaborations regarding women and children’s health.

Dr. Chowgule demonstrated a nice application she had developed for storing on her iPad clinical data that could be used by doctors and other health care professionals visiting rural areas as well as for developing telemedicine capability in such settings.  She planned to tie this in with fingerprints so that patients who were unable to read could easily be identified and records of previous visits would be accurately accessed.  We also discussed some ideas she had regarding future collaborations on non-communicable disease tied to environmental issues such as

  • Diabetes
  • Malnutrition
  • Smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical exposures.

Dr. Chowgule’s dedication and the energy she brought to medical issues of women’s and children’s health was infectious. I was happy to be part of this great initiative.

Still More Security……

After a brief sightseeing tour through central Mumbai, where we visited the massive outdoor laundry center in Mumbai (“Dhobi Ghat”), we went to the airport for a flight to Delhi.  There are always surprises when you visit a new country and move through security.  In India, after they screen your carry-on luggage, the luggage has a paper tag placed on it that must be stamped with an official seal showing the date.  This is checked at the boarding gate and if you forgot to get the tag, they send you back to be rescreened (read, miss your flight).  Fortunately, the delay didn’t last much longer, and we were able to board the plane in time.  The flight to Delhi was uninteresting and over cloudy skies.

Indo-US Joint Working Group

In Delhi, we attended the meeting of the Indo-US Joint Working Group (JWG).  This JWG was formed as the result of a memorandum of understanding between the Indian Ministry of Health (ICMR) and Family Welfare and the US Department of Health and Human Services with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serving as the lead agency.  The agreement is focused on Environmental and Occupational Health and Injury Prevention.  We were hosted by Dr. V.M. Katoch, Director General of the Indian Council on Medical Research and Secretary for Health Research. This nine-year collaboration has produced 24 workshops and 17 research projects on topics such as

  • indoor air pollution and health,
  • water quality and sanitation,
  • chemical and metal contamination,
  • emergency preparedness and response,
  • injury prevention
  • control and prevention of occupational diseases and injuries.

Dr. Katoch discussed the formation of a new institute under the ICMR umbrella. The institute will be focused on environmental health and situated in Bhopal, famous for the Union Carbide accident where several thousand people died due to an accidental release of methyl isocyanate.  We reviewed the current joint projects and discussed the proposal to develop a  biomonitoring initiative for India.  Dr. Katoch and I both stressed the need for all of our joint projects to develop plans that included the eventual translation of the projects into public health interventions and strategies that would benefit all of India and serve to inform public health practice in the United States.  Hats off to the ICMR for the science it is conducting through this agreement, and the dedication of the scientists involved!

Posted on by Dr. Christopher J. PortierTags

3 comments on “Adventures in Public Health Part 1: Destination, India!”

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    The challenges that India faces must be enormous. The years of environmental misuse of their country could take years to reverse and educate their people about the importance of protecting the environment. Its great that India recognizes the need for change and is implementing measures to do so.

    Figuring out how to setup affordable health care to India is a major problem, Mostly because it has over a billion people to deliver it to. This county’s problems, challenges are opportunities for the medical community, insurers, security firms and other service providers.
    Thank God! Advances across the board are underway on several fronts, from expanding health insurance coverage for the poor and building hospitals in smaller cities.

    I’m very glad to hear that India takes there security seriously.

    I understand that you want to increase security measures. But try to increase beneficial ones. For example I don’t know how much use those traffic gate things like these provide in terms of security. Many people simply tailgate the car in front of them to gain access to the prohibited vicinity. I did a project in class to see if people actually thought they helped security and the results shows 60% of people believed they did not.

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Page last updated: July 9, 2015