By Brij Khandelwal
Agra: Just a few hundred metres from the Taj Mahal, there’s another monument to love that few people know about or few tourists would care to visit. The Japanese-founded Jalma centre for leprosy treatment has completed more than four decades of service, treating thousands of ostracised patients, lepers, and has through research and investigations succeeded in bringing down the incidence of the debilitating disease.
Now run by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), it stands as a monument to love between the two countries.
“The total number of leprosy cases in the country has declined. People come early for treatment and respond well to the drugs and disease-management programme. But the chief area of concern remains the rate of transmission reflected through the number of new cases, which should eventually fall,” a Jalma official told IANS.
India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, laid the foundation stone of the Jalma centre near the Taj Mahal in December 1963. Japanese doctors ran the hospital till 1976, when ICMR took over and developed it as a key research centre.
Today, it is one of the most modern, hi-tech research centres focussing on leprosy and TB. It has successfully developed new generation immunological and molecular diagnostic tools and methods and evolved the mapping of TB through DNA printing which can deliver a test report in just one day against up to two weeks earlier.
The Jalma centre has built a formidable reputation through research and investigations in several critical areas like AIDS, drug metabolism, drug resistance and leprosy, to name just a few. The results would help contain the incidence of leprosy and other dreadful diseases.
It was renamed the National Jalma Institute of Leprosy and Mycobacterial Diseases in 2005 to reflect its broader research areas. The Institute has a major thrust on leprosy (40 percent), tuberculosis and other mycobacteriosis (40 percent), HIV (10 percent) and filariasis (10 percent).
Under ICMR the scientists of the Institute have continued to contribute on almost all aspects of leprosy, several cutting edge areas of tuberculosis ( DNA fingerprinting methods, drug resistance) and selected areas of HIV-AIDS and has now made forays into related problems like filariasis.
Alongside the modern Jalma hospital, there is a small village of lepers built by Gandhians in 1960 with 57 rooms where 120 victims of leprosy have been living in a world of their own.