Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Dr. Mahalanabis: the man behind ORS no more


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ORS, Dr. Mahalanabis

Mains level: NA


While Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) as a simple, effective remedy for dehydration is known around the world, the physician who pioneered the treatment, Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis, passed away.

What is ORS?

  • Oral rehydration therapy is a type of fluid replacement used to prevent and treat dehydration, especially due to diarrhea.
  • It involves drinking water with modest amounts of sugar and salts, specifically sodium and potassium.
  • Oral rehydration therapy can also be given by a nasogastric tube.

About Dr. Mahalanabis

  • Born on November 12, 1934 in West Bengal, Dr Mahalanabis studied in Kolkata and London.
  • He joined the Johns Hopkins University International Centre for Medical Research and Training in Kolkata in the 1960s, where he carried out research in oral rehydration therapy.
  • When the 1971 war broke out, millions of people from then East Pakistan took refuge in India.
  • Clean drinking water and sanitation were problems at these refugee camps, and cholera and diarrhoea broke out among people anyway exhausted and dehydrated.
  • Dr Mahalanabis and his team were working in one such camp at Bongaon.
  • Stocks of intravenous fluids were running out, on top of which there weren’t enough trained personnel to administer the IV treatment.

How he discovered ORS?

  • From his research, Dr Mahalanabis knew that a solution of sugar and salt, which would increase water absorption by the body, could save lives from Cholera.
  • He and his team then prepared solutions of salt and glucose in water and began storing them in large drums, from where patients or their relatives could help themselves.
  • The oral solution then consisted of 22 gm glucose (as commercial monohydrate), 3.5 gm sodium chloride (as table salt) and 2.5 gm sodium bicarbonate (as baking soda) per liter of water.
  • This was the simplest formula, containing the minimum number of ingredients, previously found to be effective in severely ill patients with cholera.

His legacy

  • While initially, the medical fraternity was septical, the WHO eventually adopted ORS as the standard method for treating cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.
  • Today, the WHO recommends a combination of sodium chloride, anhydrous glucose, potassium chloride and Trisodium citrate dihydrate as the ORS formula.
  • In India, July 29 is observed as ORS Day.


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