By Dr. Nitin Khot
We are in the middle of a health epidemic like the world has not seen in the last hundred years… exactly.
The previous time when the entire world was hit by a virus was when it started at Fort Riley in Kansas in USA in 1918, and, by 1920, it had consumed over 17 million (1.7 crore) lives. There was no vaccine available then for that virus, which was also believed to be part of the Corona family of viruses.
There is no vaccine available now for the Covid-19 virus that has already taken lakhs of lives.
India has promised the world that our country will produce a vaccine against Covid-19 and that it will produce this vaccine at a low cost and will share this vaccine with the whole world equally.
Vaccines are produced through a very long process of research and experimentation at vaccine institutes.
There are two pre-requisites for vaccine institutes:
a) The institute must be located in a place with an equable climate for all year round testing. That is why the British located vaccine institutes in places like Bareilly, Kasauli and Belagavi.
b) The vaccine institute must be located in a vast green, self-contained space far away from human inhabitation, so that even if an accidental escape of a virus or a microbe or a bacterium takes place, it will not infect human beings.
In 1905, the Chief Health and Sanitation Inspector for Belagavi, Mr. T.W.H. Hutchinson, cordoned off over 200 acres of land, in which he developed one of India’s finest vaccine institutes.
This Belgaum Vaccine Institute was devoted to the development of vaccines for several tropical diseases that were killing people in our country at that time.
The worst disease that killed lakhs of children every year and could be regarded as the worst enemy that India ever faced was … smallpox (regarded as the curse of the ‘Devi’).
When the W.H.O. decided to galvanize the whole world to banish this terrible disease from the face of this earth, India entrusted the lead in vaccine development to Belagavi’s Vaccine Institute.
For several years, a very fine doctor, Dr. Prasanna Kumar, worked the Institute almost 24 hours a day to produce a record 47 million doses of smallpox vaccine every year.
This was heroic work from the health workers and the technicians in Belagavi’s Vaccine Institute.
Finally, in 1977, this dreadful disease was forever banished from the world and millions of children have been saved… thanks to heroes of the Belagavi Vaccine Institute.
So the Vaccine Depot of Belagavi is therefore the ‘karma Bhoomi’ of the great smallpox virus warriors, like Dr. Prasanna Kumar and his scientists, technicians and workers.
After 1977, when the smallpox vaccine was no longer needed, Belagavi’s vaccine institute was pressed into service to make the anti-rabies vaccine.
Finally, the Karnataka State Government, wisely anticipating that it might well be needed in the future, to prepare vaccine once again, decided to protect it with a Government Order, AKUKA 84 CGM, which protects this entire space as a permanent Botanical Garden and Heritage Park.
A 3.5-kilometer long compound wall was built at great expense by the State Government and, India’s topmost architecture institute, ‘The School for Planning and Architecture’ (New Delhi), was contracted to prepare a plan to preserve the essence of this lung space, for the benefit of the health of the citizens of Belagavi, much like Cubbon Park of Bengaluru or the Ridge of Delhi.
In preparation of the Smart City Plan, thousands of stakeholders voted to retain this space as a ‘heritage precinct’, as a tribute to the battles that were fought over here against terrible diseases that ravaged our country. This was put into the area-based development plan (ABD) for Belagavi and this unique feature was highly appreciated by all in New Delhi.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “The value of water is only appreciated when the well has dried up”. Similarly, the value of green spaces will only be appreciated when we have destroyed each and every green space that we have in our cities, and built cement concrete buildings on them, in the name of “development”.